You should probably ignore this post: The Case for Contentment

Not everyone needs to be ambitious. Not everyone needs to start 10 businesses, write 10 blogs, and double their income every year. It is most dignifying to enjoy a full life with contentment, rather than optimization. In fact, you should ignore this social media post and get back to enjoying what brings you fulfillment.

I’m naturally a high-energy person. I switch my attention often. I start more projects than I finish.

Social media creates virality to please our interests. We look to others as an ideal of what we should strive to be. So, I follow the ones doing too much to get inspiration and motivation. I saw success as optimizing life: do the most things in the most efficient amount of time.

But for me, this is a dangerous spiral. Social media cares about clicks and attention, not about providing fulfillment. So, I feel self-conscious about not doing enough when my energy runs out. I disparage myself when I’m selfish, lazy, or resting in contentment. Then I feel worse about not optimizing every second. Is this feeling of disappointment my purpose in life?

We don’t see the ones who don’t post on social media.

What are they up to? Are they happier? They may be resting in their contentment. At the end of the day, self-acceptance provides more fulfillment than optimization. I realized it’s not necessary to push my tendency of action toward its conclusion. Resting is good. In fact, it may be better for me.

This has changed my approach to life. I spend my attention in the present, keeping in mind the future and learning from the past. I pay attention to my health. I simplify my goals. I change my behavior based on my current state, not what I think I need to do. I accept myself when I’m feeling selfish, lazy, and content. As a result, this means turning off the noise of social media to ignore the siren’s call to do more, more, more.

Bad things are good – Seneca – OGB #8

“Why do many difficult situations happen to good [people]?” (Seneca: Selected Dialogues and Consolations by Peter J. Anderson, page 2)

In On Providence, Seneca raises questions about hard things and answers with examples. Hard things apparently aren’t difficult: you’re just thinking about them wrong. These things are actually tests of endurance. Furthermore, these are actually necessary to become good and virtuous. Those who rise into the highest level of virtue become role models for others.

“A person can’t be a great role model without enduring misfortune.” (Anderson, 6)

Book knowledge does not produce virtue. One must perform actions of endurance through tough circumstances to gain virtue.

Seneca provides examples of role models who acted with virtue and endurance in the face of bad fortune. In fact, Fortune “used fire against Mucius, poverty against Fabricius, exile against Rutilius, torture against Regulus, poison against Socrates, and death against Cato.” (Anderson, 6). But all these people gained virtue through these tests.

According to Seneca, endurance tests are best when they are physical, rather than purely intellectual. Virtue comes through the pain of fire and torture, and the hunger from poverty and exile. But why? We could examine Seneca’s example of Socrates to discover more.

Credit: link

Socrates is known for his dialectic and rhetoric expertise. We imagine Socrates taking action by conversing with others, pressing them to examine their assumptions, and driving for truth. But Seneca highlights virtue through Socrates willingly drinking poison to uphold his beliefs after being convicted of treason. Socrates had the option to concede his beliefs, stay alive, and go into exile instead of drinking the poison. But, Socrates chose to uphold his beliefs and drink the poison. So, this physical act killed him. But instead of pitying Socrates for his misfortune and bad treatment, “we ought to envy him” because he endured the ultimate test of death, “happy and willing.” (Anderson, 6).

And maybe that’s the point: death. The best kind of endurance tests have a risk or guarantee of death.

It’s important to note that killing or hurting oneself for that sake alone is not virtuous. Pain for the sake of pain itself is not useful. Rather, fighting for something and facing a physical test with risk of death will produce growth along the path to virtue.

Boxers go through pain to break their bones so that the bones will grow back stronger. Hikers ascend higher and higher summits to maximize their potential and represent the best of humanity. The wounded soldier receives the highest military honor because they faced hardship. Socrates willingly drank the poison to show that “truth without life” is better than “life without truth.”

This reminds me of the Book of Job. Although this story is up to interpretation, one point is the inevitably of difficult things happening. We can react with rebellion or acceptance when tough tests happen. However, the best of us seek out these tests to grow into virtue. The question is: who is Job? Is he the force of rebellion or the force of acceptance in the face of difficulty?

Appreciating simplicity from afar at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Wow, did Georgia O’Keeffe handle her color!

We visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, NM. I highly recommend seeing it. The Museum was comprehensive and detailed, showing us layers of O’Keeffe beyond her paintings. For that reason, I feel like I know her as Georgia.

I was struck immediately by the nuance between Georgia’s gradients of color, attention to detail, and growth in artistic development over time. In the museum, we learned how Georgia began with formal art education in the early 1900s before breaking into abstraction. She attended to the small things, like the exact hues and shapes of simple objects like the center of a flower.

“Pelvis Series, Red with Yellow” by Georgia O’Keeffe (June, 2022)

She painted in New York City and met her partner there, but eventually left into nature at Lake George, New York. Then, she went further. She moved her life to beautiful, rural northern New Mexico. She had to experience the world at a slower pace – her own pace. Nature “speaks” to her.

As I gazed at the northern New Mexico landscapes, I was curious: how was Georgia a representation of pure American Modernism? She was capturing the wondrous landscape the local people saw every day. But, that’s the point: American Modernism, led by Georgia as its mother, aimed to show reality in an overly-industrialized era. Painting New Mexico flora, fauna, and daily life gave modern people a glimpse into a different reality outside the confines of busy Times Square or the four walls of a factory.

Natural beauty, and also Grant and Sahyli at Organ Mountains (June, 2022)

The previous week, we had driven south to Alamogordo and the White Sands National Park. During that three hour drive, we saw so many images Georgia could have painted. Natural beauty is commonplace here. We can thank Georgia for sharing it with the American people when we needed it most.

But she did more than share it: she connected our intimate, familiar relationship with nature to the divine – going beyond what exists toward what’s possible. This is where Georgia’s art shines. She had been painting the bones of animals in a way that brought them to life. She later evolved into gazing through the holes of pelvis bones and painting what she saw on the other side. She painted divine color schemes and shapes through the lens of the simple, wild beauty in front of her. These paintings are beautiful. They remind us that even the daily sunlight can be divine when viewed through the lens of “slow,” “compassion,” and “appreciation.”

She captured what sunlight should be: appreciated. She captured the shape of what “blue” would be if it were a shape.

The world enjoyed 98 great years of Georgia before she passed away in her home in New Mexico.

“Blue II” by Georgia O’Keeffe, and also some guy (June, 2022)

It’s nice when the story has a nice ending that wraps up. But, that’s rarely the case. Art mimics life, and life mimics art. So, both moves on. The way to subvert American Modernism is to subvert Georgia O’Keeffe and her art. One way to do this would be to pretend to paint a landscape that isn’t a landscape. Or represent the shape of “blue” but paint it “red.”

I have to respect my contentious to subvert such a great artist as Georgia. Because although we need to appreciate her work, we need to see it as foundational but not the end. We can always extend, expand, condense, abstract, or even subvert the great works of our time. We must. Because that’s what Georgia did.

Georgia O’Keeffe photo looking like the badass she was (June, 2022)

Are weak people humble?

Is humility weakness? Are weak people humble?

If you’re great, shouldn’t you be proud of that? So, are great people not humble?

It’s not quite that.

Humility is a respect, trust, faith, and admiration for the future. Humility is the force that lifts up bricks and places them higher. Humility is a deep understanding that my current self is not as good as my future self could be. Tomorrow could be better.

Non-humble people are as great as they’ll ever be.

But humble people only get greater.

Photo by Igor Kyryliuk on Unsplash

An exercise of gratitude: I barely survived the Zumbro 50 Mile run

Hi John, thank you so much for your hard work to put on the Zumbro race. I was a first time 50 Mile finisher and I barely made it. What a brutal course! It broke me absolutely sideways.

[Strava activity here]

On the start of the second lap, just after cresting the first hill, just before 5am, the light and darkness started to vibrate and I began to hallucinate. I had to stop running to re-center myself. I couldn’t run without hallucinating again. For 4 long, slow miles, I beat myself down. My self-talk was a downward spiral of negative. I was walking slowly.

I was giving up.

I was going to finish the 2nd lap, get into my car, and drive away without telling anyone.

Eventually, I waddled to the first aid station. The volunteer told us we still had time to finish. We could do it if we just kept moving forward. I realized that I could still make it if I just walked the remainder of the course… for 11 more hours. The sun started to rise. At the top of that next hill, I suddenly got mad. I cursed the course. How dare Zumbro punch me back and think it had won? I stamped my feet, threw a tantrum, and screamed into the woods that I would beat Zumbro just to spite it. I kept going.

11 long hours of hiking later, I sprinted as fast as I could across the finish line. A volunteer handed me a coke. I collapsed into a folding chair and started to cry. I bawled my eyes out, convulsing with agony and relief and gratitude that I had entered the darkest place earlier that night for those 4 miles. I had decided to give up. But my legs had just kept moving forward.

Thank you to the volunteers, thank you to you, and thank you to all the other participants. Every single runner that passed me wished me good job and good work and good luck. There was no way I could have finished by myself.

Thank you for pushing me to grow beyond my limits.

Credit to Mike Wheeler here

Is it possible to summarize each Portugal place we visited in a single phrase?

No, it’s not possible to capture the depth of a place in words. So why try? Instead, let most of the sand slip through our fingers until a few specks remain. New York City could be summarized as “people; lots of people.” But this would miss the incredible culture, diversity, and character of the city. At some point, we have to draw the line. We remember what we remember. The things that remain resonate with us. So, I’ve tried to describe the essence of the places we visited, so you’ll also be interested in going!

  1. Monsaraz: “castle overlooking cobbles and local art”
  2. Reguengos de Monsaraz: “families in the square”
  3. Castelo de Vide: “wise souls wander the narrow streets”
  4. Marvao: “castle in the sky”
  5. Sortelha: “true medieval ramparts”
  6. Monsanto: “rock village hospitality”
  7. Tomar: “Christian Convent on the hill”
  8. Fatima: “pilgrims in awe of God’s miracles”
  9. Obidos: “history plus modernity equals quaint streets and tasty tapas”
  10. Nazare: “big waves hit beach cliffs”
  11. Aveiro: “gondolas, bike paths, and industry”
  12. Guimaraes: “mountaintop over cafés in the square”
  13. Coimbra: “discover deep wisdom here”
  14. Lagos: “local vibe among touristy beaches”
  15. Portimao: “best boats and best caves”
  16. Sagres: “the edge of the world”
  17. Sintra: “touristy fairytale castle”
  18. Porto: “expressions of pure style on both sides of the river”
  19. Lisboa: “the genuine experience, with a taste of San Francisco and spice from Barcelona”
Portugal Trip: Week 1 and Week 2 (Feb-Mar, 2022)

Most people wouldn’t notice this during vacation

My wife, our two friends, and I traveled to Portugal on vacation in March, 2022 for 16 days. What an amazing time! I highly recommend vacationing in Portugal for many reasons, but mostly because of the healthy balance between comfort and newness.

When we go on vacation, we go off the regular path. We explore back streets, talk to locals, and wander. Here are the unique things we noticed on our trip.

Porto, PT in March, 2022

People go slowly and spend quality time

We often saw big groups out for lunch in every city and town throughout Portugal. Friends catch up in the square. They sip espresso under umbrellas at quaint patio tables. Well-dressed professionals go to lunch for two hours, typically ordering a few bottles of wine and three full courses. There’s no rush, even during the workday. The most important thing is to slow down and enjoy the present moment with friends, family, and colleagues.

One night in Porto, we sat down for dinner at the crowded riverside and looked around. There were at least one hundred people in view. Every single person was strolling, relaxed, and chill. I counted zero people in a rush or stressed.

Another day, within the winding streets of beach destination Nazare, we watched in awe as a truck lumbered down a one-lane street between three-story buildings. The driver stopped the truck in the middle the road, blocking the way. He got out, grabbed his delivery from the back of the truck, and strolled into a doorway. Meanwhile, three cars idled behind the truck. A whole 30 seconds passed before the driver came back out, waved nicely at the cars behind him, and continued on his way. Half a block later, he stopped again! By the end of this ordeal, the cars behind him had been delayed a whole three minutes. But they did not honk. They smiled and waited. Tell me any city in the USA that has this kind of patience for more than 10 seconds!

Óbidos, PT in March, 2022

Steep cobblestones are no problem for strollers

Portugal towns and cities are filled with history and culture. They were built on hilltops and mountains, overlooking kilometers of lush countryside. Buildings and roads are tightly packed; they were built for people and animals. Cars are made thin to fit the narrow, winding streets. Parking is impossible unless you know the best spots. Good luck renting a car in Portugal without scratches along the sides!

All of this is fantastic. I love it. There’s so much character, uniqueness, and depth in towns that have endured for centuries. Technologies come and go, but the towns remain. An elderly woman walks hundreds of steps down and up to get groceries. A family pushes kids in a stroller across the square. They are experts by now. Parents lift the little ones up rain-slick stairs and maneuver stroller wheels down steep stone paths.

Digitizing my past to write my future: Transcribing my notebooks into Obsidian

I have a new project. Using Obsidian as a second brain (thanks to my brother for the recommendation!), I am going to digitize all of my physical notes. I have many, MANY pages of notes. They range from travel notes to intellectual musings to pictures. This transcription project could easily take 100 hours or more. But it is a worthy and lifelong opus.

I’m doing this for a few reasons:

  • I want to make my notes easily searchable
  • I want to be able to easily relive and appreciate my past
  • I want to connect past ideas across time and space to generate new ideas

By using tags and connections in Obsidian, I can make connections between nodes (notes) that would be difficult to realize otherwise. These connections could unearth unknown topics in fresh ways. For example, maybe a note from 2014 could connect to a thought from 2018 that could address a problem in 2022.

I plan to write new blog posts based on realizations that come directly from this project. More to come!

Grant’s notebooks, ready for transcription
Grant’s Obsidian Second Brain connections as of 2022-02-20 (check back in a few weeks!)

On a mountaintop, I see my future self

Each time I hike to the top of a mountain, I get a strange but familiar feeling. I wake up. I feel like the last months were all a dream. Standing there, looking out over the wilderness, I feel real.

Something is going on here. Maybe mountaintops bring us closer to heaven; summiting is an accomplishment that brings us purpose; the beautiful landscape is awe-inspiring. But that’s not quite everything.

On top of a mountain, I feel connected to my previous selves that also summitted mountains. Spacetime creases, bends, and folds inward on itself. Suddenly, my life is a continuous moment: just those mountaintops. Everything else between those moments falls away.

Then, my future self looks back at me from the next mountaintop. And I know there’s more climbing to do.

Grant at the top of Zugspitze (Sep, 2017) – Notice the look of excitement but with terror

I’ve been training a lot for this Zumbro 50 Mile Race in early April, 2022. The full course boasts 6,750 feet (2,057 meters) of elevation across 50 miles (80.5 kilometers). The elevation gain is about the distance of the Kentucky Derby. Thinking of the elevation gain in these terms makes it more manageable. But by the last lap of this race, I will dread every gentle rise like a mountain to summit.

That’s the point of Ultramarathons: to push yourself beyond your perceived capacity. In that sense, mountaintops are like finish lines. At the finish line of my previous race, I saw my future self looking back at me from the next finish line. And I knew there was more to come.

New-trition in 2022

I recently realized that I need to prioritize my nutrition. I have reached a weight of about 210 lbs. while exercising. At 6’0″, I am technically obese or overweight. So far, my BMI is 28.3, which is high but not very high. However, my fat percentage is 24.5% which is normal. And my muscle mass is extremely high. So all things considered, my health metrics are fine. But that’s no reason to ignore my health.

But the more I can slim down, the better I can reach my goals; the more my muscles can propel me over the same distance. So, I consulted an expert nutritionist from Allina Health, a clinic local to my area, to learn more,

Here’s what I learned: “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” This means that just because part of something is bad, doesn’t mean that I should remove it completely. Because I may be losing something valuable by throwing it out. For example, eating meat often causes higher health risks. But, this case isn’t a universal reason to stop eating meat, because meat has other benefits that would be lost.

Nutrition is highly personal. Don’t take the advice for me as advice for you. You, the reader, have your own body and goals and quirks. Here are my lessons:

  1. I need to consume about 150 grams of protein per day. That means keeping meat in my diet to make this easier. I can increase the percentage of legumes I eat, but I cannot lose the protein that I need to maintain my lifestyle and goals. The best practice calculation is 1.4-2 grams of protein per weight in kilograms.
  2. I should add lentils, beans, or similar protein- and fiber-rich legumes to every meal. Recently, I have been adding a salad to nearly every meal as an add-on. I should do the same thing with lentils and beans to boost my protein and fiber intake. Protein gets me to my goal of 150 grams per day. And fiber fills me up quicker, so I can eat less and get full quicker.
  3. I can eat all kinds of legumes. Different vegetables contain different nutrients depending on whether they are raw, cooked, or roasted. I thought raw veggies always have more nutrients. However, sometimes cooking veggies can bring in new nutrients! I should eat a variety of colors of veggies, prepared in different styles.
  4. I should continue reducing sweetened foods with added sugar. But, I don’t need to throw out all sugar completely. I get benefits from the other nutrients in sugary foods.
  5. Soy milk is generally better than almond milk because it has more protein.
  6. I should buy more frozen fruit when we run out of fresh fruit. Typically, we go shopping every three weeks or so. But our fresh fruit goes bad by the second week. So, we should get frozen fruit to eat after the second week.
  7. I should eat without distraction: focus on eating the meal rather than multi-tasking. This gives me a better indicator of how much to eat until I’m done. So, I am less likely to overeat.
  8. I should eat when I’m hungry. Intermittent fasting has some benefits, such as maintaining stable blood sugar levels. However, it’s not a universal solution to weight loss or health. I lose valuable opportunities to take in nutrients while fasting.
  9. Below is a visual I can follow for each meal. Then depending on my goals, I can adjust the portions and sizes from this starting point. For example, in the morning, I should take in more protein. Whereas in the evening, I should take in more carbohydrates.
Source from Allina Health