Cold Showers

September 26, 2013

Just a little over a month ago I saw this TED talk. The guy spoke for 10 minutes about how one day he was convinced by a friend to start taking cold showers. These showers, in turn, motivated him to start doing all the things in his life that he was afraid of doing before. Start a business. Run a marathon. Get in shape.

If you look the guy up, you’ll see that he runs a self-help website, where he makes videos and sell books and equipment to help people  “push their limits.” And what better way to promote this than by providing your own personal success story?

What I found interesting though, was that unlike other self-help guides, where the first step is inevitably to buy some book or device. His first step didn’t cost anything. Not money, or time, and it wasn’t a commitment of any kind. You just changed the way you shower everyday. However, I think what hooked me was his closing remark:

“If you’re not willing … to be uncomfortable for five minutes alone in the shower, where the only negative outcome is you being cold for five minutes and the only person affected by that decision is you. Then how will you ever have the strength or courage to be uncomfortable in a situation where the outcome is much greater…”

It was a challenge. And I accepted. So that night, at almost midnight, I took the very first cold shower of my life. And let me tell you. It was every bit as miserable as I thought it would be.

After turning the cold knob and feeling  the frigid water with my hand. I spent the next 5 minute just standing there going through every possible rationalization for why I shouldn’t step in:

“This is dumb, what will I prove?”
“It’s just a gimmick to help promote his products.”
“It’s late already, I should start this tomorrow.”
“Don’t people catch hypothermia from staying in cold water?”
“I’m busy with work, I don’t have time to get sick right now.”

And I think if it had been any other time in my life. If I hadn’t been going through whatever this is I’m going through. I would’ve walked away and never thought about it again. Instead, I stepped in and spent the next five minutes cowering at the side of the tub, slowly inching into the water. Eventually, I was able to stop shivering long enough to wash myself and then dry off.

The next day was even worst. Not only was I convinced now that this is dumbest thing I’ve ever attempted to do, but the previous night’s shower was still fresh on my mind. I started shivering before I even walked into the water.

Well. Today marked the 30th day, and my 30th cold shower. Technically the end of challenge. And you know what? The shower was still every bit as miserable. The water didn’t get any warmer. If anything it’s gotten colder with fall setting in. What has changed, however, was my attitude towards it. There was no doubt, no hesitation when I stepped in. Just a general acceptance that it sucks and moved on to washing.

It’s hard to say if doing this the past month has been worth it. It definitely wasn’t the life changing event the speaker made it sound like. I don’t suddenly own a business or a six pack. Nor did I expected to. That kind of change doesn’t come from something like this.

However, it’s unfair to say that it had no effect at all. Staring down that icy nozzle and walking into the water everyday for the past month has given me a perspective I wasn’t expecting. I realized, after about two weeks, that I was starting to become more aware of the distinction between being uncomfortable because I dislike something (taking a cold shower) and because I’m afraid of something (anticipating a cold a shower). Prior to this, I’ve always considered those feelings to be the same. What’s more, I’ve noticed that very, very rarely am I in a situation where it is the former. I live an easy enough life where I am almost never in a position where I truly dislike what is going on. Most of the time I am simply afraid. Afraid of new people, afraid of change, of being judge, of failing, of disappointing the people around me.

I’m not saying this realization makes those things any less frightening. They still scare me just as much. But it gives me a chance to face it. When you see the world as things you like or dislike.  Then there is little opportunity for change. You like what you like. Such things define you. But if you see the world as monsters to face, and demons to conquer, then such things become a challenge. And change comes when you’re ready to tackle it.

Small Moments

July 21, 2013

Much of my life has always been about the big goals. The awards. The degrees. The next step for the next thing for the next line to feed my growing resume. There’s a lot to say about the expectations that comes with being at the bottom end of an upside down tree. Raised to follow the legacy of a family where the adults outnumber the children 3 to one, if not 6 to one. Maybe someday I will talk about that instead.

The problem with a life that revolves around the big goals is that it produces mostly big memories. Ones that I, to be honest, don’t care all that much about. It isn’t to say that I’m not proud. They’re just not the memories I reminisce.

When was the last time we talked about how we walked across the stage and got that important piece of paper? More likely it was about how that whitewater raft almost tipped. Or when we drank a little too much wine on that bus.

It wouldn’t be a problem, if making memories wasn’t such a numbers game. You spend your time making a couple big ones. Or you spend it making a lot of little ones. And most days I feel like I have invested poorly.

One day. If I am lucky. I will be old and no longer functional. An old man sitting in an old chair thinking about old times. And, again if I am lucky, I will have the privilege of remembering what I’ve done and accomplished.

I wonder. When that time comes. Will I be thinking about the papers I’ve published and the recognition I’ve earned? Or will it just be strings after strings of pointless, useless, small moments that have come to define who I am?

Counting

July 10, 2013

Three years.

No.

Two and two-thirds.

But who’s counting?

I remember that last post below. It was from a conversation with Dan and someone (?). I made a funny. There was laughter. I told myself to blog it later. And so I did.

I also might remember why I stopped. I think it was to get away. Or maybe it was because I got away. It’s fuzzy. I remember wanting to run. To abandon. Maybe to give up. Poor idea in hindsight, but it was important at the moment.

After that? There’s… not much. Not as vivid at least. Two years went by with hardly a thought. Or a complaint. Just a couple faint memories of disruptions in the routine:

Three conferences. Four trips home. People visiting. China. Movies. Moving.

Otherwise there was only:

Work. Games. A friend.

For a year (No. Maybe two.), I didn’t do anything new or met anyone new. Just buried in the familiar. In a single studio room, disconnected from the world. In a lab, waiting for the sun to let me sleep.

And given enough time, it all felt normal. None of it felt off, or strange, or different. It was the way I lived. The life I had. A job that lets me get away with it. People around me who were much too forgiving.

The thing about change is that, when it’s slow enough, it often feels like nothing’s changing at all. Before you know it, you’re somewhere you don’t want to be. And it’s hard to remember if you were ever anything else.

But, sometimes, all it takes is a reminder. Something sharp. Sudden. Something wonderfully and painfully familiar. To remember why you did the things you stopped doing.

To remember why you bothered counting at all.

Whirlwind

July 19, 2010

Oh man, the past month has been such a whirlwind of events. So much has happened, I don’t even know where to start. I guess I’ll go in order like a sensible person. Get ready for a long one:

España (6/6-6/11)
So the month started off with the OHBM conference in Spain. Barcelona to be specific. The conference was pretty standard; lots of posters, lots of talks. I’m not going to bore you with the details. The city, however, was fantastic and definitely worth talking about. Unfortunately, I really only had a day and a night free to look around, so I decided to hit the high points of the city like a good Asian tourist. I started off with the Sagrada Família, this gigantic church that’s been under construction for the past 130 year:

My ticket told me that my money will be used to help finish the church, but I’ve got a sneaky feeling I won’t get much recognition for the contribution.

Following that, I visited Park Güell, which was apparently also designed by Antoni Gaudí, the same man who designed the Sagrada Família. What I was told is that his architecture is scattered, fairly prominently, all across Barcelona. Of course, I never got to see the others, because the park was ridiculously large. I ended up spending about 4 hours just walking around, looking at the various structures:

The final night, I went with a colleague to see the coast and grab some Tapas. Incidentally, this was my only picture of Barcelona with me actually in it:

As always, Europe was gorgeous. I need to meet someone that’s willing to go vacationing there with me.

Boston (6/21-6/25)
After a week back at home, I was off to Boston for a workshop. It was a collaboration workshop, so I spent my mornings/afternoon coding with a girl from BWH, but I had most of my nights free. My birthday was on Tuesday, therefore I continued my five year tradition of spending it with random strangers(or by myself). This time it was with some dude my Dad went to grad school with.

The following night I had dinner with Ling and Franco who are working in the area, and the final night I spent with Chil and Ryan who are working at Philips(where I did my internship). Over the week I came down with a cold and was running a fever for most of those nights, so everything was kind of a blurr. Hopefully I wasn’t sprouting nonsense all night(more than usual at least).

Camping(6/26 – 6/27)
Coming back from Boston, I had a night to do laundry and then I was off camping with Dan, Ian, Jesse, Chris and Tobis for Ian’s bachelor party. We hiked part of the Appalachian trail, which was fun. I was still exhausted from my cold though, and I vastly underestimated how hot it is to hike with long hair. Definitely need to bring more water and a bandanna next time.

*Note – All the pictures from here on out are from Dan or Kai’s collection. I’m so horrible about remembering my camera.

So here’s us pretending to know what we’re doing:

Tobis ended up not feeling well, so rather than trekking to our campsite, we  just set up camp at a nearby site off the road. Jesse cooked hot dogs, Chris set up a fire, and the rest of us put up the tents:

The next day we went intertubing, and yes, that’s me doing my “Sexy” look. You can tell because I was sticking out my stomach to appear more like a man of wealth and status:

The whole experience kind of made me miss home. Some of my fondest memory from Utah are of hiking and camping with my family and friends. Maybe I’ll add it to the Utah roadtrip I’ve been brewing in the back of my mind for the past few years.

Wedding (7/1-7/3)
The weekend after was Morghan and Ian’s wedding. Dan and I were ushers, so we had to be there by Thursday for the rehearsal. This, along with Monday off for the 4th, made it the longest vacation I’ve had in a long long while. The wedding was, of course, beautiful:

You’ll notice those are watermarked. That is because I am very much not going to pay $10 bucks for a print of someone else’s wedding photo. But here’s a group photo of the Cornell folks without the watermarks: (Unfortunately my eyes were closed, but who can tell right?)

The reception ended up being exactly what you would expect from Morghan and Ian:

It was styled to be kind of a games night, in memory of the first time they met(at a “Regression Session” at Cornell). There was no alcohol, so there was only a brief period of awkward dancing from me. Unfortunately, Dan caught it all on video. As if I wasn’t already indebted to him. =(

Every time one of my friends get married, it always make me feel like I’m behind. I suppose it’s a kneejerk reaction, because 24 is still pretty young to be married. But seeing the wedding definitely confirmed that it’s something I want, and that I should make an attempt to move forward in this department. The past couple of years has been so stagnate, and I suppose I can come up with all sorts of good reasons, like moving to a new city, or being busy with school. Realistically though, it’s because I just haven’t made an honest attempt at it in such a long time. Definitely time to change that.

The Fourth (7/4)
The Fourth was mostly spent with Dan and Kai. We went to a baseball game(where the Nats got demolished):

and followed up with a visit to the DC Zoo. It was hot though, so all the animals just laid on the ground:

Later that night we met up with Nolan, Chin, and Tobis and saw the firework show on the mall:

I can’t remember if it was Kai or Dan that mentioned that the red lights make the monument look like a monster, but now I can’t stop seeing it.

It was a great show, but I think what sealed the deal for me was the company. Fireworks(and I suppose even weddings) come fairly often, but it’s rare to have a chance to just hang out with a group of old friends:

Overall, a very good month.