(For international readers, allow me to explain: I am an American but I have lived in China since 2004. My city of Chongqing, often abbreviated as CQ, is pronounced Chong Ching to rhyme with Wrong Ring. CQ is a megacity of 30 million people in south-central China, on the Yangtze River. I’ve come a long, long way – 13 time zones to be exact – from my home town of Rolla, in south-central Missouri, on the Little Dry Fork creek.)
As we end the year 2020 and begin 2021, it seems appropriate to review what has worked, what needs to be changed, and what I will do in the coming year.
What has worked: Reducing the number of ongoing projects has made life a little more peaceful for me. This includes more time for projects that involve working with my hands; I want to spend more time away from my desk and computer in 2021.
For millions of people around the world, this has been a stressful, fearful year; the stress and fear have been expressed in many forms. But there were some positive aspects also. I have learned something important: If I spend more time focusing on areas that I can control instead of thinking about big, unpleasant issues that are beyond my control, it is possible to significantly lower my stress levels. Indeed, this realization subsequently led to the decision to publish a new book about reinventing your life by simplifying.
What will change: After receiving several lukewarm reviews, I have decided to suspend the AI (Artificial Intelligence) translation of my blog posts from English into Mandarin Chinese. At least for the immediate future, it seems that this new technology is not sophisticated enough to offer an acceptable translation. Perhaps my extensive use of casual, conversational English and the rustic American idioms from my early years on the Little Dry Fork in Missouri were more than the AI is capable of translating accurately at this time. In 2021, I will periodically revisit the AI resources and hope that we can resume offering a Chinese translation. In the future, I confidently expect AI to make things smoother and better in many parts of our lives. AI translation is one of them. But not yet.
What will I be doing in 2021? I will continue using writing as my creative outlet. I plan to publish new blog posts on a biweekly basis. Also, I will be publishing articles on Medium.com, the platform for writers that welcomes articles on almost every subject imaginable. (Readers of this blog are invited to visit Medium.com and read my articles there.) After a long lapse, I will publish a new ebook in the coming weeks. In addition to publishing on various platforms, I hope that 2021 is the year my earlier books will be approved for sale in mainland China. And finally, I have been approached to collaborate on writing a non-fiction book about a drift voyage across the Pacific by wooden raft. It should be a busy, exciting year.
One of the best things to come out of the pandemic experience has been my realization that our life does not have to be so complicated or so hectic. A forced lockdown is not pleasant but it does give one time to reflect. I have concluded that, after our physical and mental health, the next most important elements in our life are the relationships with the people around us. The upcoming book, with a working title of Reinvent A Simple Life, will offer some practical ideas of how to reduce the stress and uncertainty in our life. (The original title was DAHIK – Don’t Ask How I Know.)
You saw it here first: Below is the preface for this new ebook. Please remember this is the first draft; it is not supposed to be perfect. The final version may differ from what you read today. Indeed, your thoughts and suggestions about changes to this preface are invited, either in the comments box below or by personal communications through Wechat or email (randy@randy–green.com).
Happy New Year. Let’s get started!
Why did I write this book? Because, after wasting literally years of my adult life on trivial and not-so-trivial matters, I realized that I was deeply unhappy and unfulfilled. After a lot of reflection and incremental changes – not always linear – things slowly got better for me. Maybe some of the things I discovered along the way will be useful to others. Maybe they will be useful to you.
Earl Nightingale said it best. “We live today in a golden age. This is an era that man has looked forward to, dreamed of, and worked toward for thousands of years.” Now, thanks to many factors, we are experiencing greater affluence, distributed across a broader range of humanity, than ever before in history. We enjoy a lifestyle with more comforts, conveniences, services, and diversity than our grandparents and great-grandparents could have imagined.
So why aren’t we happy? Indeed, why are so many people desperately unhappy? Many are more than unhappy; every day, we see angst, alienation, depression, aggression, fear, outrage, anxiety, withdrawal, tears, and explosions of senseless violence. We consume mountains of tranquilizers, antidepressants, and sleeping pills. Sadly, those don’t seem to bring more than, at best, momentary respite from our psychological pain. But anger is always a secondary emotion; it is the reaction to pain. So, what is causing all this pain which results in so much anger? With increasing affluence bringing more leisure time, why can’t people seem to relax?
Perhaps our genetic legacy from thousands of generations of subsistence-level hunter/gatherers simply cannot cope with the frantic pace of modern city life. Many authorities are beginning to believe the root cause is due to the exponential growth in the levels of stimulation, alternatives, and social changes. In Lost Connections, Johann Hari says that modern society provides more opportunities to connect with other humans but, ironically, increasing numbers of people feel they have no really close friends to confide in and share with. We may have hundreds of acquaintances – especially online – but no close friends to turn to in a crisis, or even to go to dinner with on a lonely Friday evening.
People lack a sense of control over their life and their immediate environment. They don’t feel any sense of self-determination or stability. Whatever happened to “A man’s word is his bond”? Plans, decisions, and commitments made by others are certainly not something to depend upon. They last only as long as they are convenient. Promises are broken with nothing more than a perfunctory, “I changed my mind.” The concept of loyalty to an organization and the corresponding belief that the organization will reward individuals for their loyalty has been shattered.
This unsteady quasi-stability is the byproduct of career mobility. How many people do you know who are working for the same company as they were five years ago? How many people are confident that their company would take care of them during hard economic times? Unexpected economic shifts, revolving-door management, new ownership by unwelcome acquisition, company downsizing or closing, and new technologies that are quickly incorporated into our daily routines make it impossible to feel any sense of permanence or stability.
Our personal lives are not much more secure. With all the changes swirling around us, it is difficult to maintain any lasting relationship. Soaring divorce rates are part of a flood of addictions and escapes in various forms. Vague and shifting online communities, barely contained outrage on social media, “latest-and-greatest” product releases, and easy credit encourage impulsive behaviors. Instead of meaningful, enduring possessions, we are encouraged to prefer disposable items and pay for tourist experiences produced for the masses.
Skillfully crafted advertisements imply that you can buy happiness. (Have you ever seen anyone in a beer or a new car advertisement who didn’t look deliriously happy?) Marketers are taught, “Don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle.” But man cannot live on sizzle alone – and, all too often, even the dubious satisfaction of the sizzle lasts only until the next latest-and-greatest model comes along with an even more enticing sizzle.
What’s wrong with this picture? In the richest, most educated, most connected, most upwardly mobile time in human history, why can’t people find peace and happiness? Why are people so confused, easily manipulated, and unable to achieve more of their potential? Stand by for the answer. (Hint: The person who is driving you crazy… is you. Likewise, the person who can pull you out of your self-created confusion is also you.)
James Allen identified one major problem in the title of his book As a Man Thinketh. In more recent times, Earl Nightingale restated that concept with his famous observation that “We become what we habitually think about.” Certainly, these statements are indisputable, self-evident. But perhaps they can also help to identify one of the central problems which is the cause of so much of today’s confusion and unhappiness. Specifically, in the face of so many opportunities – and distractions – how can we select and maintain one goal, one lifestyle, or even one identity? The fictional English detective Sherlock Holmes was capable of identifying a person’s occupation, lifestyle, and habits with a single glance. Not so in modern times; we change too dramatically and too quickly – plus, we have too many roles to play. If we haven’t seen someone for a few months, we have learned to use caution when asking about the current status of their work, interests, or even their relationships.
It has become a platitude that we humans do not come with a user’s manual. Using a computer without a user’s manual is dreadfully inefficient and, mostly, an exercise in futility. Humans are a little more fortunate. In lieu of a non-existent user’s manual, we can always fall back onto the oldest of nomadic tribal behaviors – conformity. Whether you are making investments on Wall Street, getting married, or simply selecting your spring fashions based upon this year’s hot new colors, it is always safe to do what the people around you are doing. No thinking is required; there is safety in numbers. Going with whatever is popular is always a safe choice. The problem is that, while making decisions based upon popularity was generally harmless for the individual in a tribe of hunter/gatherers, it is a terribly inefficient method in our age of rapid social change and constant technological innovations.
The topics in this book are intended for short sessions of daily reading and reflection. If you rush through the entire book in one quick scan, you may get a small sense of satisfaction. But the effect will be illusory and, I assure you, quite temporary. It’s like the warm glow of satisfaction when you visualize owning something rather than taking the many physical actions to actually make it happen.
Thoughts – even genuine epiphanies – without accompanying actions are unfulfilling because, without action, your life will not change. You might actually become unhappier. But, if you ponder these concepts individually and carefully, explore how they might be used to improve your current attitudes and behaviors, then apply them consciously, then do it again the next day and the next day and the day after that, you can make more progress more quickly than any number of hours sitting and visualizing and affirming… but changing nothing.
That’s the key – taking action.