This past week was my first full “normal” week since quitting. The frenzy of completing a long list of overdue errands, the decompression from the 25-day road trip, the catching up on all the TV shows I missed, and the novelty of appreciating that I now have all the time in the world… All that has passed. Now, time to buckle down and take the next step.
Two dots make a line, a line with trajectory. The first dot has been marked. Where will the second dot be?
When I quit my job, my paramount goal was to be happier and healthier. Health can generally be measured by objective standards, but what about happiness?
I know that happiness for me involves at least some degree of productivity. Overall, it was a productive week. I attended my first meeting as a member of the Committee on Legal Issues Pertaining to Animals on the New York City Bar Association. (Animal causes are something I feel strongly about.) I had lunch with ex-colleagues catching up on the latest gossip of the BigLaw world. I visited my in-laws in Philadelphia, something that was long overdue. I found an interesting writing class offered by New York University’s Continuing Education division, which unfortunately was over-subscribed. Not productive, but at least I know what to look for next semester.
There were two notable things I did this week that I felt helped me make strides in tackling the subject of happiness. One was reading Gretchen Rubin’s New York Times bestselling book “The Happiness Project“. The other was taking the three-day aptitude test at theJohnson O’Connor Research Foundation mentioned in my previous post.
“The Happiness Project” is the first book I read since devouring the Twilight series over a three-day Christmas break almost two years ago. (It’s true I read “The Secret Life of Bree Tanner” on the road trip, but as a 100-page novella it doesn’t count as a real book.) I used to be a voracious reader; in fact, I have a second bachelor’s degree in literature. After becoming a lawyer, the last thing I wanted to do after poring through hundreds of pages of contract documents for work was to read more in the evenings or weekends. Rotting the brain in front of the TV seemed more therapeutic. But work was not all to blame. I had become risk averse to reading books.
Reading a book had become a big investment in terms of time, money and space. Watching a movie takes only a couple of hours, but reading a book can take days. Because I would get annoyed with myself for not reading a book from beginning to end, I would force myself to finish a book I disliked. Afterwards, I would still be annoyed for spending the time and money on something I didn’t enjoy. On top of that, I hate throwing books away, so the book would sit on the shelf collecting dust, mocking me for the time and money wasted. So to avoid getting annoyed and disappointed, I read less and less over the years.
This is something I want to change about myself. I want to be able to pick up a book without too much hesitation and stop reading a book I dislike without getting annoyed. So reading “The Happiness Project” was a test. I had heard a lot of good things about the book but was wary that the book would turn out to be facile like “Eat, Pray, Love”, the movie I intensely disliked.
Previously, I would have just bought the book, probably a used copy, from Amazon. But, after seeing a friend’s Facebook status update about going to her local library, a light bulb went off in my head. Why not borrow the book from the public library! That way, no money wasted and no accumulation of clutters. Plus, New York has one of the best public library systems in the country, and it was about time I recouped some of the city taxes I had paid over the years. The thought brought me great happiness.
I was also pleasantly surprised at the ease of using the library — you can reserve and renew a book online, request a book to be sent to your nearest branch for pick up, and return the book to any of the library’s numerous locations.
The book was engaging; I finished it in less than four days. Unlike “Eat, Pray, Love,” I felt that “The Happiness Project” was an authentic account of Rubin’s struggles and attempts to become happier, coupled with honest self-examination and astute self-awareness.
Like Rubin, I already have a decent life, but I want it better. Is it greedy? Perhaps. Is it self-obsessed? Perhaps. But if you have the desire to improve, the means to explore, and the self-discipline to act, then why not?
I liked how Rubin systematically tried new resolutions each month. Some, like starting a collection, singing in the morning, imitating a spiritual master, didn’t seem to be applicable to me. But I do plan to try many of her other tips in the coming weeks, such as cleaning out the closet, stopping nagging, trying completely new things, and becoming more mindful of the present. I also appreciated that she was generous in revealing aspects of her life that were unflattering. And more importantly, she accepted certain of these aspects and stayed true to herself.
One thing that resonated was Rubin’s approach about searching for fun things to do. She found that she has a tendency to do things that other people enjoy because she felt they were more legitimate. She decided that she needed to acknowledge to herself what she enjoyed, rather than what she wished she enjoyed.
There is a fine line between pushing yourself to perfection according to consensus and maximizing the potential within one’s natural inclinations. Rubin’s fine line may not be mine, but her struggle encouraged me to gain a better knowledge of myself and set a more realistic and balanced goal for myself.
The Johnson O’Connor aptitude test was part of gaining a better self-knowledge. I hoped the test would help me discover professional areas where I have innate ability and those where I don’t, leading to the discovery of a career in which I could uniquely excel. The test consists of performing a wide variety of tasks, such as distinguishing pitches and tones, assembling blocks, remembering words and numbers, organizing ideas, etc., which collectively test for a wide range of aptitudes, such as visual perception, spatial orientation, auditory capabilities, memory, motor dexterity, etc.
Some of the results were not surprising. I totally sucked at 3-D structural visualization, just like when I had a tough time distinguishing stereoisomers in organic chemistry, but was off the chart when it comes to memory.
However, there were two surprises. The first was that I scored high in ideophoria, a test which measures the rate of idea flow. Although I did normally enjoy brainstorming sessions at work, I never took whatever ideas I come up with seriously enough to explore further. I always thought of myself as an executor rather than generator of ideas, so I automatically discounted my ideas. Now that I know that I apparently have a knack for generating ideas, I will pay more attention to them and try to develop their quality.
Another surprising result was that I was not top ranked in analytical reasoning as I expected. I have always taken pride in my analytical ability; after all, it is one of the top skills used in legal practice. I was befuddled and discouraged. But I now see that aptitude and skills are different. Skills can be learned, honed, and acquired, while aptitudes are more innate. It may be easier for someone with high analytical reasoning aptitude to learn analytical skills, but aptitudes are no substitute for such learning.
I think of aptitudes as body shapes. There is nothing you can to do to alter the body’s structure. For example, no matter how much weight Jennifer Hudson loses, she is not going to lose her curves and be stick thin like Paris Hilton. What is possible is to make the best of what you have. After losing a lot weight (hopefully through healthy eating and exercise), Jennifer Hudson certainly looked much better.
Likewise, I can never achieve a 25 inch waist. I need to accept my limitations, the lesson learned from “The Happiness Project.” But just because I give up on an ultrathin waist doesn’t mean I should stop doing ab exercises. Instead of striving towards an idealized number, I can still strive for a toned mid-section. Yes, a toned mid-section can be a symbol for the balance of my fine line.
Now, I need to apply this concept in my broader life.
On to a more light hearted subject. I got two new foster kitties this week. They are a 4.5-months old brother/sister pair who just got neutered. Chase, the boy, is more boisterous and playful, while Christy is shy but sweet. They love watching me typing in front of the computer, chasing after the cursor.
Here are a few pictures of them.