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REFLECTING | REASON

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Reflection

Drop the Analogy: Pit Stops and 2019

Monica Wojciechowska

Sunrise at Bear Mountain State Park and some 'quo vadis' contemplation

Drop the analogy

Apparently four days of bed rest and absolutely minimal activity is exactly what the Doctor (yes, I’m talking about the doctor with a capital D) called for! While a back injury from gymnastics and the stomach flu don’t make for a great start to the new year, I have to say their combination is the work of a mastermind. Had I just hurt my back, I’d probably have fought through the pain - until who knows what else might’ve happened. But add the stomach flu to the picture, and no way I was leaving the apartment for more than a trip to the pharmacy or the nearest grocery store. And if nothing is calling me outside, a trip inside will have to do :) 

This past year was an exciting one for me in many ways. One of the top highlights personally (I guess you could say “professionally,” though I feel like that makes it seem as if I was striving for this to advance my career, instead of a variety of other reasons) was speaking at two tech conferences in Europe. The first in Stockholm. The second in London. Both were on the same topic: in general - data visualization, in particular - “Hooked on D3: Creating Animated Charts with D3 and React Hooks”. I crafted a sort of story comparing the way you create charts using two different technologies to the way two chefs might work in a kitchen.

A bit after the conferences, the organizers shared feedback gathered from the attendees. As much as I could tell myself “Your value is God-given. No one else can give it to you or take it away,” or “you are loved because you are, not because you are someone or something,” it’s always hard to hear criticism… so I didn’t want to open the doc. On the one hand, I’m well aware that ignorance is (often) bliss. But on the other hand, information is a good thing, and feedback is just more information. It’s not about what is contained in that doc, but about my response to its contents… After finally braving up enough to open the feedback and wising up enough to know that it doesn’t have to hurt if I don’t let it, I saw this piece of advice: “Drop the analogy next time…” 

Drop the analogy?! But that was the best part of the presentation! I was shocked. But the shock made me realize something very important about myself and my approach to information / learning. I love analogies. I think there’s something absolutely beautiful, fundamental, awe-inspiring to being able to connect two seemingly different topics. And I think one key reason I feel this affinity to analogies/metaphors is because they often compare something to something else in the natural world. And that natural world just happens to be a world I feel most at home in. X is a tree... Y is like the waves of the ocean... Z is like the stars... My heart belongs to this world. And with my heart, quickly follows my mind.

So rather than ‘drop the analogy’, I’d like to share another (my apologies, dear Person, who asked me to do the exact opposite): 

A Pit Stop along the Way

If life is climbing a mountain, the start of each new year is a pit stop along the way. These pit stops are a time to:

  • Pause
  • Recharge
  • Take awe at how far we’ve (this isn’t a hike I’m hiking alone) come, and that it is our feet that somehow got us there
  • Check the map to make sure we’re going in the right direction

How do we choose where to take a break from the hike in real life? Well, generally, when there is a good view. When a certain amount of time has passed. When the conditions will allow for it (e.g. out of sun, so we can relax in the shade for a bit). The same goes for reflection. When I pray, I reflect upon my day.  At church on Sunday, I ask God for his help in the coming week, and thank him for his presence in the one that just passed. But there’s something about a year, a New year, that lends itself particularly well to more far-reaching reflection. A year is in general a good length of time for such an activity. Not too long. Not too short. A lot happened. A lot that you probably did not expect going into the year. But at the same time, not too much to wrap your head around in some relatively-reasonable manner. If we were to have pit stops too often, they would be more exhausting than relaxing! Could you imagine unstrapping your backpack, taking out your thermos, finding a nice place to pop a squat, then packing everything up and taking five steps only to unstrap the backpack and go through the process all over again? You’d go nowhere! You’d be so stuck on reflection, that there’d be no new ‘action’ to reflect upon! So one year it is. Not too long. Not too short.


Pit Stop 2020

When I look back at the trail since the last pit stop, elevation marker 2019, here’s what I’m grateful to see:

January:

  • Got the amazing Multisport card - access to gyms, pools, rock climbing, fitness classes, and a bunch of other sports - best company benefit there is. They should really make something like this in the US :)
  • Took up Muay Thai boxing (my brother left me his boxing gloves from an MMA camp in Poland the summer before. I thought I’d go to one practice and tell him ‘thanks, but not for me’. One year later, I’m still at it. With a smile.)

February:

  • Chopok - snowboarding in Slovakia with cousins + friends
  • Tertio Millenio Winter School - talking philosophy, theology, economics, and society with an awesome group of people in Wadowice (where JPII was born and raised)
  • and something else that I'll always be grateful for (writing this 'note to self' so I don't forget) 

March:

  • Skiing in the Tatras, Kasprowy Wierch, first time skiing in powder! Like out of a dream. 
  • Birthday weekend in Gdańsk with Zosia

April:

  • Easter with Babcia + my first Wigilia Paschalna (Vigil) mass. Light plays a big role in this mass. The church starts in complete darkness and slowly gains more and more light. From the back of the church a single candle is lit and then one by one each person passes it along to the next until everyone is standing with a lit candle. A flame that can be passed along without end. Without ever growing weaker. The symbolism - and reality - are incredible.

May:

  • Valencia with Iryna and Sebastian + friends

June:

  • Weekend in the Bieszczady Mountains with jw. GROM (Polish special forces)
  • Canyoning in the Italian Alps (Tolmezzo)

July:

  • Rachie in Polska - and the scariest moment of both of our lives on Kozia Przełęcz… thank GOD we’re alive
  • 4th of July party in Warsaw - Polish American style! Country music never sounded so sweet. 
  • Martin and Marcella in Poland - Gdańsk, Chałupy kitesurfing, Warszawa

August:

  • Polish Weddings x 2
  • Pannonica Festival, Beskid Sądecki
  • Annual family gathering (plus mama’s birthday) on the countryside

September:

October:

  • San Diego - finally the family of four together for some time + learning how to surf!
  • First international programming conference as an attendee and speaker (Stockholm)
  • And then my second… (London)
  • Cambridge to visit Julka and Marysia :)

November:

  • Babiogórski National Park with SKPB
  • (re)discovering gymnastics!
  • Julka in Warsaw

December

  • Poznań - the (company) party of my life. What a night. Grateful to be able to work with such great people.
  • bailamos Bachata!
  • Przemyśl for Christmas

And now I turn and gaze up at the magnificent peaks ahead:

I think that New Year’s resolutions are all too often about what we want to accomplish, the end result, rather than our approach to achieving those goals. I’m not entirely sure where such a change of approach came from for me the past couple of weeks, but I’m sure glad it did! This year, and the year’s to follow, I don’t want to set any sort of huge ‘goals’. I don’t want to measure anything in terms of metrics. I don’t want to ‘optimize’ my life. I want to live it :) Goals are important to an extent. They help guide you to a particular place. But the more important question, is not have we reached our goals, but are we aiming for the right ones.  Each year, I’m learning more and more that what we achieve is a by-product of an approach, not the product itself. This isn’t a huge difference, but I think it makes all the difference. It’s not about the path that I want to shape, it’s about how I approach all the things that cross my path. And how exactly do I want to approach these things: with openness. To people, to ideas, to experiences, to God’s will. With a heart centered in today, not what will be tomorrow (otwartość + odwaga + oddanie siebie i swój czas).

And confirm with the map (and with the compass of course) that I’m headed in the right direction. One way to check:

What do I believe?

  • Don’t lie. Obviously for the ethical reason of ‘because it’s not good’, but also out of practicality. Lies (even the tiny ones) complicate your life two fold. You are now dealing with reality, and with the version of reality that you told someone else. And it’s much more difficult to keep track of two "realities" than to live in one.
  • There are a lot of self-help books out there. About all the rules to living a good life. The principles. But really all it takes is 10 rules to live by. It’s as simple as the 10 commandments. Show me one person that lived authentically by these guidelines and wasn’t happy. 
  • Listening is more than hearing. How to listen 101: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.
  • Free speech isn’t here so that we say things that others want to hear. It’s so that we can say things that others disagree with. Without fear of repercussion. Disagreement is an “unparalleled opportunity for growth”.
  • Good = rationality used in the pursuit of virtue. (Shapiro, Peterson, Rubin) 
  • Through simplified communication of complexity, you often lose a lot of the story. This is why you have to be careful with summaries. With statistics. With visual representations (data viz). 
  • Wisdom isn’t accumulation of knowledge, but rather about self-awareness and humility. It's about (including of course awareness the knowledge you lack).
  • Humans aren’t computers. Computers aren’t humans. And one will never be the other. The problem of my generation is not access to information. But the filtering of that information. And this is a people problem. A human problem. Filtering fake from fact. Filtering low from high quality. Finding the signal within the noise. And I don’t really think it SHOULD be fixed by computers / algorithms. Because then we are taking away the opportunity for humans to be free thinkers. We are not building up discernment, but making it unnecessary.
  • Don’t build your house on sand, build it on a rock. If it’s built on sand and wind comes, which it will, it will blow away. If it’s built on rock, it will stay grounded. A strong foundation, strong roots are more important than whatever you pile on top of them.
  • I don’t want to be neutral. "There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” - Aristotle
  • Objective Truth exists. Which means that there isn't “your truth” and “my truth”. There is just Truth. 
  • What leads to a fulfilling life? The freedom to choose to act virtuously / take responsibility for your life and your actions.
  • You should use the same criteria for hiring a candidate than you do for firing a candidate. Unfortunately I think these two rarely align… (for example, diversity initiatives)
  • If there was ever something I’d be an activist against, it’s abortion. If we can’t defend life, what will follow?
  • I’m a firm believer that eye contact and a smile, should be classified as the international language of good will. Such a small gesture can make such a difference. Sharing hope and acceptance: “It’s good that you are here”. 
  • “I don’t have time” is never a valid excuse. If you are alive, which I take it you are, you do have time. Your life is comprised of just this - time. “Not having time” then, isn’t really about time, it’s about how you want to spend your time. It’s a matter of prioritization. What you really mean when you say “I don’t have time for X” is “I have other activities that I prefer to use my time on rather than X”. If it was truly a priority, you’d “make time”. Or more precisely, you’d spend time on this rather than other things that are occupying it.
  • And speaking of time - time away from the screen is more valuable than time in front of it. 
  • Satisfaction associated with computer programming isn’t just about solving problems. It’s just as much about identifying them. It’s about a desire not just to get an effect, but to get it in the right way. Or at least as close to the right way as you can see at the time. Therefore some key qualities of the programmer are self-awareness, and openness to self-improvement.
  • It’s not just about being authentic. And it’s not just about being good. It’s about being authentically good - sincerity. That is what I look for in others, and what I hope others look for in me.

And do I live by my beliefs? 

This is a harder question. But I think voicing them is a good start to making sure next time I ask myself this question, and all the times after that, the answer is a resounding YES.

So it’s been a nice pause.

I’m recharged, refreshed. In awe of what's been, and eager for what’s next. Time to keep hiking. Adventure is calling :)

RR© 2019 — Reflecting Reason