The Year of Reflection: After the Quake

Shinjuku Park, Tokyo, Japan, March 14, 2012

The first quake occurred at about 2:46 PM on March 11, 2011, as I was walking out of my office to lunch. What started out as a slight tremble built up into a violent shake that would last for approximately six minutes. For me, it seemed like a life-time. The shock of the experience to this day is still difficult to put into words. In the aftermath, scientists postulated that aftershocks and quakes would continue for a year in duration. After the first week, the aftershocks continued. Sometimes I was not sure the earth was shaking or my nerves were shaking. For a detailed look into the unbelievable seismic activity in and around Japan check out Japan Quake Map.

Additionally, the images of the nuclear reactors exploding was surreal because it hit so close to home. It was not a scene from 24. It was real. In the past year, I have learned a lot about life. I know who is there for me in terms of undying support. I appreciate the fragility of life. I understand that we have to make the most of our time because our lives are limited. The only regrets in life are failing to do the things that are within your grasp.

Life is a learning process if you choose to view it as such. I now understand that knowing your limits is an invaluable step in assessing and capitalizing on what is in your grasp. Otherwise, I may live a life of reckless abandonment. The illusive time immemorial question about “What is life?” is insolvable and should be. Because if we knew the answer to that question, the fun would go out of the journey.

At the end of the day, this year of reflection has given me the opportunity to appreciate and enjoy the beauty of simplicity. No matter how much one can adorn the landscape of our imaginary, nature’s simple gifts of hues and beauty gets lost and caught up in the lives we are live.

I spent a peaceful day yesterday in Shinjuku Park (新宿公園)admiring the natural beauty that is canvassed by skyscrapers. As I sat at home last night watching TV at 9:05 PM, a strong jolt shook reminding me of living in Japan, and so is life chalked full of uncertainties.

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The New Year Invited a Quake

Welcome to the Year of the Water Dragon (according to myth, water will determine a person’s fortune) in the Chinese zodiac calendar. The legendary dragon and only legendary animal in the calendar. Dragons symbolize power and come from heaven. Dragons can be:

Magnanimous, stately, vigorous, strong, self-assured, proud, noble, direct, dignified, eccentric, intellectual, fiery, passionate, decisive, pioneering, artistic, generous, loyal. Can be tactless, arrogant, imperious, tyrannical, demanding, intolerant, dogmatic, violent, impetuous, brash.

I’ve gotten used to the influence of the Chinese zodiac on the New Year in Japan. You can see many zodiac symbols at the beginning of the year, especially if you send and receive New Year’s cards. This year’s 年賀状(nengajō) New Year’s Day postcards usually have a dragon of some sort on the front. There is an exception to this etiquette:

It is customary not to send these postcards when one has had a death in the family during the year. In this case, a family member sends a simple postcard called 喪中葉書 (mochyuu hagaki もちゅうはがき, eng: mourning postcards) to inform friends and relatives they should not send New Year’s cards, out of respect for the deceased.

This year I decide to abandon all New Year’s traditions both Japanese and American to opt instead of going my own way. Why make resolutions I know I won’t keep? Why do what doesn’t make me happy? A Happy New Year should start out happy. This is what I told myself. I’ll try to live my life without compromising unless it’s necessary. I don’t want to come off as selfish, but “to compromise” means “to give up something that you want in order to reach an agreement.” The question I ask myself: Does compromise mean win-win or win-lose? For me, if it’s not a win-win situation, I won’t compromise. Instead, I’ll look for a different alternative.

When it comes to business, I will uphold “honesty, integrity, and service before self.” These are some of the values I’ve incorporated from the Air Force’s core values, which I think are good values to live by. Moreover, I should never forget who I am and where I come from. If I don’t value myself and my principles, it’s impossible to create value for myself and others. I should also use my experience and training to cope with and deal with problems and disasters as they arise.

Japan is a country plagued with seismic activity and typhoons, so disaster preparedness is paramount for survival. It’s never too early to plan for a natural disaster. Many excellent Websites have primers on disaster preparedness. For example, Are you prepared?, FEMA has a PDF you can download, and if your kids are at school or you’re at work, you need to know what to do.

Coincidentally, an earthquake hit Tokyo yesterday. It was only a 4.0, but my place shook pretty good. Maybe the New Year’s quake was a reminder that I must be prepared for things that I can’t control in my life. I know we can’t be ready for everything that is thrown at us, but in many cases we should still know what to do, to avoid panic, and to keep a cool head.

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The year to forget: 2011

The year started out as the year of the rabbit on the Chinese calendar. With this in mind, I was subconsciously hoping the year would bring me health and prosperity, though, I’m the least superstitious person. However, the year of … Continue reading

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Killing time with iPhone

Living in Tokyo, I spend a lot of time on the train every day. For the most part, the rides can be boring. However, thank God I’ve got my iPhone to keep me preoccupied, but a big time waster for me is my obsession in finding the perfect app. It’s more of a trial and error process until something better comes along.

While I’ve got my lap top in my bag, the weight of everything I carry is starting to bog me down. Maybe it’s time for an iPad (or making my things more portable–hard copy files included).

I’ve just got to make sure I’m not developing a portability problem.

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I know my time is limited on this Earth, but why do I procrastinate?

If only we didn’t procrastinate, then where would we be? Would we be turning out as good of reports, products, widgets, etc.? This is a good question to explore. On the other side of the coin, how many anally retentive people do you know? Probably no one, unless they’re suffering from OCD or Asperger’s syndrome, so it doesn’t count if someone can’t control themselves. If procrastination actually improves output, why does it get a bad rap? For this answer, we’ll have to turn to risk management.

Risk management is all about prevention–now wonder the insurance industry stays in business–by using statistics and probability to calculate, assess, and assign a risk value to an event or occurrence. Psychologically, humans are risk averse–meaning we rather hold on to something if there’s a chance we will lose something–so paying insurance to provide some psychological relief is better than carrying around heavy and taxing baggage. Most important for the risk manager is avoiding and averting disaster, where the prescribed method would be using foresight and hindsight to prevent the unforeseeable risk from occurring. In this respect, starting a project early should be sufficient to effectively plan and complete a project with a greater margin of evading obstacles. What seems to be missing from this formula is the pressure that drives creativity and provides some closure to a project. I mean, without a deadline, you’ve got all the time in the world to kill. Still, experience is important in how we handle pressure. Whether we feel stressed or relaxed depends on how we react to our environment and situation. No situation is the same, however, there’s a common pattern that appears that drives us to make decisions and provide solutions based on experience. Stress is unavoidable, so we should use it to our advantage by using our creativity to transform stress into positive stress, eustress.

Cool heads always prevail in many situations, so containing first reaction by taking a step back to objectively look at a situation should be the first response. Remember, when you mother told you to count to 10 before responding? By suppressing first reactions, we can keep an open mind and keep many options on the table. On the other hand, if we respond with our initial reaction, we could become myopic creating a tunnel vision that makes finding a solution more time consuming. You are probably now thinking: how does this relate to procrastination?

Well, don’t wait to the last minute to start your project, and you might just avoid the unnecessary stress and burden that comes with every project. At a minimum, you could plan your project first before starting, which is better than doing nothing.

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When is too much empathy bad?

I’ve been pondering this question recently. How much empathy should I show without coming off looking cold and selfish?

I bring this up because it’s difficult to avoid that the economy’s in the toilet, which leads to an often heard statement: We are fortunate we have a job.

While I won’t argue against having a job is a good thing, staying in a bad job for too long could rob you of better opportunities.

However, it’s better to make rational decisions rather than emotional ones (unless it’s a gut feeling that has been plaguing you for eons). Getting back to my original question, is it even possible to compare yourself to another person?

I believe this is where the answer lies. If there’s something you don’t like about yourself, it’s up to you to change it. Don’t waste your time comparing yourself to others because you are not really accepting responsibility for yourself. More importantly, you could be taking the necessary action to improve yourself.

If you are stuck, talk to someone who you feel could give you the necessary advice to move forward.

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Freakonomics » The Upside of Quitting: Full Transcript

Freakonomics » The Upside of Quitting: Full Transcript.

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