dal niente

Month: August, 2013

Helllllllo

In case you didn’t know, guys, you can actually get stainless steel or titanium jock straps to protect your family jewels.

I had to look on eBay recently to get a replacement cup protector. For you ladies who don’t know what I’m talking about, normally you get this g-string sorta thing which has a protective, hard shell “bannana hammock” in it. This reduces the risk of injury from various scenarios, such as football in the groin, kick in the groin, knee in the groin, punch in the groin, etc– but I’m sure you can tell what the pattern is.

About a month ago I actually broke my jock strap. That’s never really happened before, and honestly, I didn’t think it was possible, because the plastic used is actually quite tough if you ask me. I don’t specifically remember a particular instance where someone kneed or kicked me in the groin on purpose (it does happen every now and then by accident though) where it might have simply cracked, but I do know that at some point I just became aware that, well, my groin area was making these cracking noises.

I went shopping for a replacement online and decided to upgrade from the basic strap-on groin protector and went for something a bit more elaborate– Shock Doctor padded compression shorts, with cup protector. I received the item today. The compression shorts are great– perfect fit. They also have some light padding around the hip bone area. In my old age, any extra injury prevention is probably worth it, because I don’t heal as well as I used to. I wear a size medium pretty comfortaby.

Medium for the shorts, anyway.

For some reason, totally beyond me, they decided to send an XXL cup protector though. I’m not sure why they’d assume that my order for medium shorts meant that I wanted XXL for the groin protector.

I’m going to return it. I tried the shorts on with the cup inserted, and even with my judogi on top, [CM] thinks I’ve got this massive boner just sticking straight out.

!*@#%* online stores.

Go for Broke

Around the same time when I first started really getting into video games in the late 90s, and by that, I mean taking the time to finish titles that had over 50 hours of gameplay, I was also looking into Dungeons & Dragons.

For me, my ongoing fascination with gaming, whether electronically, on paper, or in other ways, has been the way that it provides me analogies to isolate and understand “real life” better.

I look at my life as if I’m a protagonist.  Like a character in a role playing game, I have stats and abilities.  Physical stats like strength, agility, dexterity and stamina.  Brainy stats like intelligence and charisma.

And then broader skills: law, music, sports, relationships, what have you.  And then the specific skills for the minigames that make use of these skills: Cutting onions.  One arm shoulder throws.  Drop shots. Shaving.

I treat myself and introspection like the process of developing a character sheet full of these scores and skills, and these things give me an overal score in life, like “experience points,” which I’ve usually simply called substance.

I like using the term “substance” more than “experience points” because there’s an emphasis on a real world manifestation in time and space when it is brought out.

The limitation on how much substance you can acquire is usually broken down into time and energy.  There’s only so many points of energy that you can use in a day, and only so much time in a day that you can use those points.  Some tasks have steeper experience curves than others– for example, you can spend just as much time doing the laundries, something you probably know how to pretty well, and aren’t likely to see much improvement in; as you would practicing to say hello in a few foreign languages.  You can spend the same amount of time and energy in different activities, but overal, what you actual get out of those activities will give you varying returns based on your past experiences.

Usually, a time of great growth is one where you’re accumulating a lot of substance in a given period of time.  When you’re bored, usually you’re not accomplishing anything.  That’s not to say that when you’re “productive” that you’re gaining a lot of substance– it depends just what you’re doing, and perhaps who you’re doing it for.

Lately, I’ve been totally exhausted.  Sometimes, you can get tired for “no good reason”– like boredom, which is a subconsciously imposed cap on energy because of low morale or loss of direction.   Other times, you can be tired because you’re physically ill, which places caps on energy.

My recent situation is a bit different.  I think though it’s because it’s one of those highly saturated times of my life where I’m feeling the mental and physical burn of an extremely high energy/time to substance ratio.  It’s a high concentration of constant activity with both good and bad results that is making me learn, really quite quickly, about all sorts of things.

  • The whole clerkship process has been an emotional rollercoaster for me.  I’ve come to really tweak my business persona, used at all these cocktail evenings. Despite the lack of results so far, I’ve become much more comfortable talking at interviews and with strangers in general.  I’ve gotten used to the idea of “selling myself” naturally.
  • IWith the recent rejection from my first choice law firm, I’m down to two more chances of getting a second round interview with my remaining two firms.
  • I’m taking three classes where I’ve been trying to keep up with the readings and participate actively in class, although with limited success.
  • I have been improving steadily at judo, which could itself be an entire entry of it’s own.
  • I have been dealing with Law Society internal politics, which means a hella lot of managerial work.  Which is a hella lot, considering I’m not even a manager.
  • In parallel to my own situation, [CM] is dealing with a lot of similar things– so we’re also working on keeping our relationship healthy and supportive, which in itself is a skill, considering how many hurdles we have to jump together.
  • eTC
  • etC
  • etc

 

Anyways– just to say, life is busy.  I’m getting a hella lot tougher out of all this, that’s for sure.  And I am more than a bit tired.

 

However, there isn’t actually anything that I can do to slow things down– and in reality, even if I did slow things down, what then?  Taking extra time to do nothing would just give me more time to worry about things that I can’t change.  So in the mean time… I’m grinding away at all these things simultaneously, on “hard mode.”

I do feel myself getting stronger, and I do feel bursts of fun because I’m playing hard at the things that make me happy, but god– do I ever miss being able to just be without responsibilities.

 

Deep down I think I know that I could walk away from everything.  I would survive.  But on the other hand, maybe there’s still a bit of that Catholic and Confucian indoctrination remaining that makes me feel guilty for even considering that.

 

I still think that somewhere down the line, I’m going to win big by playing like this.  As long as the end result is still worth it, this is all endurable.

And Then There were Two

Another denial for round 2 interviews.

I have two more firms left. It’s getting to be pretty grim. I’m more than a bit nervous about things.

Standing Trial

I’m in a computer lab at school.  Done my readings for class which is coming up.  But mostly, I’m sort of brain frozen– my last first round interview is in about 3.5 hours from now.  I’ll be leaving class about halfway through to go to it.

In a way, I’m glad that the interviews were spaced out, and that I managed to get as many as I did. It’s given me the chance to really work on my routine and what I plan to say when asked certain types of questions.

 

That doesn’t make it any easier though.  I kind of wish I could just skip class and go to the interview right away and just get it over with– the tension is becoming unbearable.

Need

The last few weeks have been extremely stressful.  I started off with over 10 applications to firms for clerkships.  One by one, rejection notices came back– but in the end, I managed to secure four first round interviews.  I’ve already received a rejection for a second round interview for the first firm, I have completed first round interviews for two others, and I have one more first round interview tomorrow.

 

I’m down to three chances.  And even when one of these chances eventuates, that takes me to the second round– where there will be another cull.

 

I don’t sleep properly at night anymore.  Insomnia has got me– it’s too quiet at night.  I sleep better when the sun is up and the world is moving, maybe because there’s something comforting about all the background noise as it occupies my attention, instead of allowing my subconscious to keep wandering back to clerkships, clerkships, clerkships.

 

I had a good time yesterday– [CM] and I joined a wine tour with my university’s Law Society.  Basically, you take a bus around an area of Australia that is world famous for it’s vineyards and wineries, and get to sample various wines all day.  It was good to get away from the city and just … decompress a bit.  The air there was so clean.

 

… I am so tired though.  Physically, I think I’m getting enough rest and food, but mentally, I’m just so tired.

 

This reminds me of the feeling I used to get before a kickboxing tournament. I’d always feel extremely nervous.  More so than I ever would in badminton.  What if when I hit him, he doesn’t feel it?  What if I get hurt?  What if I can’t reach him? What if…?  There are consequences, and they are very real, and they can hurt me.

But even those situations don’t compare to this.  The truth is, in all those sorts of competitions, I’ve always fought to win– but deep down, I didn’t really need it.  Perhaps that’s why I never came in first.  It was always enough for me to do better than last time, and to give it my all.

 

This situation is a bit different. I want to win.  I need this.

I have decided not to go to judo for the past week or so– my subconscious, and my fighting spirit, which does most of the work while I’m at the dojo, is just… disturbed.  Training in that state would be a bit risky, because I might hurt myself or hurt others.

This situation with the clerkships is very difficult for me, because I’m a simple man who doesn’t have very many needs in life.  But I’m afraid that here is something that I need, which I have no idea of knowing if I will get.  In fact, I have very little control over the process– I am basically putting myself in front of these people to be judged, and they will decide based on what they want.  Simply, that may or may not be me.

 

It doesn’t matter how well I do in the interviews, unlike a fight– in a fight, there is always something to be said of the things you did manage to accomplish, and the things that you endured.  Winning isn’t everything. 

Here– it’s all or nothing.  Only the final result matters.  There either is a job, or there isn’t.

I need this, and that is why I feel so out of control– because I don’t get to decide whether or not I get it. I’m doing everything I can– everything else is “luck.”

I would make a terrible Buddhist.

Syntax

Compare this original extract:

In these jurisdictions, employers must conduct email surveillance in accordance with a company policy and must comply with notification requirements.

 

With the way I’ve rewritten it:

In these jurisdictions, employers conducting email surveillance must do so in accordance with a company policy and must comply with notification requirements.

 

Do you see the difference in meaning?

Ask Not Your Country Can Do For You

Society draws a lot of arbitrary lines based on age, because it’s the quicker way of deliniating cutoff points for laws and regulations.  There’s a certain age for drinking, for driving, etc.  Even for things that don’t have specific ages, we as a society perpetuate an “ageism” by making a lot of assumptions about people based on temporal considerations– we assume a certain amount of maturity from a university undergrad versus a high school student, for example.

When you think about it, these assumptions are not very useful.  An undergrad degree starts right after high school, after all.  The amount of mental development that takes place magically between the time you finish high school and start university? In most cases– not very much happens during the average person’s break.  It goes without saying that the maturity of individual people varies a lot, but I would say that none of us would voluntarily want to work with about 90% of the random people we run into on the street if we got to know them a bit, and had the anonymous choice.  In this randomly generated percentage, I include children, teens, and “adults” in the same demographic sample.

I’ve been working with a lot of undergrads this semester with the university’s Law Society, where I’m the “Director of IT.”  It involves quite a bit of work, but now that I’ve got systems and procedures in place, it’s mostly transactional and doesn’t involve me inventing any better mousetraps.  Request comes in, work gets done.  In most cases it’s simple copy paste stuff and formatting.

I’ve spent several  years working before starting up postgraduate studies, so I know what the workforce is like.  There are people who are driven, and there are people who are less driven.  And there are people who are effective, and people who are less effective.

I’ll try and be less negative, because I just caught myself ready to rant about how stupid undergrads are.  Instead, I’ll give some positive advice, with some commentary on the kinds of people I like to work with.

  • Show initiative.  Go beyond what’s expected of you.  Do things that are relevant to the job before someone asks you to do it.
  • Communicate effectively. Answer official correspondence in a timely manner.  Address the questions being asked of you with actual answers.  Adding in more questions doesn’t help, and deferrals without followups are useless currency and everyone knows it.  Help solve the problem.
  • Honour Your Word.  You don’t have to make pinky promises for everything if you just learn to do what you say you will, and be frank enough to admit when you don’t think you can do something.  Your work might be important, but nobody cares that you did it– when it comes to their interaction with you, the first thing they will always see is your reputation.  And building a strong reputation has to do with delivering what you promise.  Talk is cheap– but if you talk as you act, then people start treating your words as something substantial and heavier than the words of those who lack in the ability to deliver.
  • Be Transparent.  That ties in with above– if there’s a problem on the horizon, and you think it could affect your ability to do things as scheduled, don’t wait to be asked about it.  Bring it up now. Learn to ask for help.  Learn to admit your mistakes.
  • Step Up and Take charge. Especially if you are actually in a formal position where people are working under you, use your position to facilitate efficacy rather than hiding behind bureucracy.  Get the job done, get it done justly, cheaply, and efficiently.  Don’t just hide behind politics that you never intend on resolving– take a stance for what needs to be done and do it.
  • Step Down.  If you can’t do what you’re supposed to do, ask for help on how to do it.  If you still can’t figure it out, get the fuck out of the way of people who can.
  • Be Realistic, and Have Quantification Techniques. Understand what your goals are, and checkpoints to measure if you’re getting any closer.  Don’t stay in the clouds and waffle and theorise– keep an eye on the bottom line.  At the end of the day, you should bring your organisation closer to acheiving those objctives.  If all you’ve done, either as a low, mid, or high ranker is talk, well, get out.

Fundamentally, I think that a lot of the reason why people lack a lot of qualities when engaging in work is because they don’t care about the work.

Let’s disintegrate that proposition though.  If you don’t care about that work, why are you doing it?  Loving yourself is the first step to being able to love anything outside of you– and if you can’t take responsibility to start somewhere, just what are you trying to accomplish?  Are you waiting for someone to come and save you?

A lot of people will say something like it’s a necessity to bay bills and such.  Fair enough.  I have a part time job that I use to pay the bills.  But there’s always another job out there that could just “pay the bills.” You have to balance how much bill paying you can do with how much morale you can maintain– I should add that at my part time job, it’s boring as sin, but I am great at it and I produce great work. I might not love the work, but it doesn’t make me unhappy, and because I respect it as a stepping stone to get to where I want, I can continue.  I love myself enough to value that anything I’ve decided to do, either for its own sake or as a stepping stone to something else,  is worth doing well, otherwise, I’ll quit.  Happiness levels, which have the greatest potential to kneecap good results, determine the cutoff.

There isn’t any good time to start taking responsibility for your own life, and deciding you’re responsible for your own happiness.  When you put yourself in a position where you are unhappy, it’s natural that without special effort, you will produce shitty work.  And if you produce shitty work? Well, then, what good are you?

 

News flash: the world doesn’t need you, it needs what you can do.  But that’s not necessarily a bad thing– because being able to do more for others is what gives you substance of character anyways.  People who are not good at producing for others? They’re probably takers, and not givers.  If all you have to offer is “you,” well… you’re probably not good at anything, and chances are you’re probably not all that likeable.

 

Good news is, we can and do change.  In fact, that’s what the whole social, educational, and natural process (all tied in with growing up) is supposed to be all about– making us productive members of society.

 

 

So I suppose, really, I’m asking not just for good work from my peers. I’m asking for peers who have taken responsibility to be happy.  The pursuit of happiness is what leads to good work, and good people.  Therein, perhaps, lies the problem. Happiness is hard stuff to find, and the bravery to look for it when it’s not obvious is really hard to come by.

But it does seem consistent with my earlier 90% comment.

Overall, perhaps my observation is that life is a holistic affair.

Round 1

I just finished a 15 minute phone interview with the first firm.  It’s actually pretty daunting to say so many things so quickly– 15 minutes really isn’t a lot of time, and it doesn’t leave much space for conversation with the person at the other end of the line.

I think I did pretty well.  There’s a few things that I could have talked about a bit better, but at least, unlike last year, I didn’t say anything outright wrong.  If things turn out right, I’ll know by the end of this week that I’ve made it to second round interviews.

 

The interview today was by a person from HR, so I rather suspect that this was basically a large cull to see if we were capable of speaking English.  Round 2 interviews (if I get one) will be with partners at the firm.

Sic Parvis Magna

I recently finished playing Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. It’s was a fantastic game overall. Gameplay was nothing out of the ordinary, but the world is beautifully crafted, the music is full and really gets the moods going, and the story is strongly character driven, yet over the top. It’s like living through the Indiana Jones movies of my youth.

Good things have been happening lately. I don’t really believe in knocking on wood, because I think that these good things are an intersection between hard work and luck. But maybe I should knock just in case? I got my fourth invitation to a first round interview a couple of days ago. That means that I have four chances at clerkships, which is pretty big, considering the market is pretty shitty right now. (Australia’s economy isn’t doing so well.) Mind you, interview are not a guarantee of anything. It’s just chances.

But perhaps that’s all I need.

In Uncharted, the protagonist of the story has an heirloom ring with an inscription: “sic parvis magma.” It roughly translates from Latin to “greatness from small beginnings.”

It made me think about how different I am from who I was in the past. I’ve sorted myself out in many ways. I’ve been doings things the way that I want. And yet, I’ve come to want good things for myself, as well as others. I think I’ve grown to be of stronger moral fibre, and having my foundations set right has let me make strong moves outwards into the world. I’ve learned to channel my energy and obsessiveness a bit better in socially acceptable ways, and in ways that benefit those around me as well. [CM] tells me that from studying clinical psychology, they call this practice “sublimation.”

I think that given lots of possibilities for different ways of doing things, it all started with making better choices in life.  I think that I am getting to that point where I have learned to apologise for the things I’ve done wrong, but I understand that feeling guilty about anything never helps– mostly what matters is moving forward.  It’s not that the ends always justify the means, but if it’s done, it’s done, and there ought to be some benefit derived from it. If you’ve done wrong by anyone, then either make it up to them, or at least gain something from the sacrifice you’ve made of them.

I was talking to CM recently about the entourages that we keep. I noted that I don’t hang around losers by choice anymore. At the same time, I don’t hang around people who are unhealthy for me. I think a lot of becoming who I am today has been about trimming the fat, and making conscious efforts to cut out bad habits– and that includes hanging around people with bad habits who will only drag me down. I had to learn to let go of the comforts of what were ultimately self-destructive behaviours. It was almost like a magic forumula– suddenly I had time to engage in the things that I really wanted to do, or at least, to fight in pursuit of what I wanted.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

About a month ago, I was asked to give a welcoming speech to the new Juris Doctors. A JD is what you call law school graduates when you finish our particular postgrad degree. There were two faculty members who gave speeches, as well as another postgrad student who spoke at the event. There was a common theme to the speeches that they gave: this is a great school, this is a great opportunity, and you will have a great time.

My presentation was the last thing before we broke out the food and wine, but my message was somewhat different.

“You’ve heard a lot of things about services at this law school, like the LIbrary, Law Society, the teachers, etc. But there’s a lot of services in upper campus you should be aware of as well,” I explained. “Psychological services is one of them. And I’m serious. You have a wonderful opportunity here– but the stress could get you before you make full use of this opportunity.”

I went on to explain a lot of harsh realities about law school as I saw it, which in a way was just advice about life in general. It included taking the time to do something other than school to keep your mind balanced and capable of happiness. I reminded them that they needed to take care of their personal health, and take care of the health of those around them.

I pointed out that it was important be adventurous, and to brave trusting people.

I also told them to read. Law is based on precedents– as such, a lot of the cases we red are often old ones. And even new ones, if they’re of any importance, someone on the internet has probably written something about it. Case summaries and commentaries basically. But at the end of the day, you cannot pretend that you know how to read. Reading what you find on the internet, instead of reading the cases directy in all their complexity, is cheating yourself.

What separates the people who are truly good at things from the people who are just on cruise control are the habits. Excellence isn’t a single result– it’s a way of life, and it is fraught with frustration and hardship.

A  number of students approached me after the talk, and said that frankly, my talk had scared them a bit.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

A strange turn of events had one of those  new students from that welcoming event asking me for advice. Next thing I know… I’m running a mentoring group.  It started off as one person, and now it seems that I’ve got about 10 of them who I’m meeting on a weekly basis.

The thing about mentoring these first semester students is that it gives me a pretty interesting view of something that is normally difficult to notice– how much I know now, compared to when I started just a couple of years ago.  They represent a snapshot of hisotry– analogous to my own history– and the questions that they’re asking of me force me to remember just what choices I made to get to where I am.

 

It is always difficult to see what is possible in the future– but in retrospect, it’s always nice to see the small beginnings.

Kipling's Man

From the Rudyard Kipling Poem, “If”