Going digital…

We all have that box or filing cabinet filled with paperwork. If you’re like me, you dread going anywhere near it. Every time you open the box or drawer, you shove in papers into a space they shouldn’t fit and sit on the lid to close it, hoping that nothing breaks. Tax returns, bank statements, you name it… They are bursting at the seams…

When you expect to give up your apartment, though, this box finally becomes a chore that you have to address. It’s too heavy and bulky to store or move, so the best bet is to scan it all and shred the papers so you can finally leave it behind. Digital storage is almost free, but taking the time to scan all this shit is a huge undertaking.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been filling my spare time with digitizing and sorting all of this junk. After struggling with my horribly slow and buggy scanner, I finally broke down and bought a dedicated document scanner. It’s about 10x faster, and I’m hoping I can sell it easily when I’m done with it, but at least it’s cutting down on the time to put all this stuff in the cloud. It feels like such a waste of time, but we’re all legally obligated to keep our important documents accessible, so it has to be done.
Just one box of files to go. Wish me luck!

Bypassing Iran…

It’s an unfortunate fact in this world that something as basic as your place of birth can limit your options in travel (and indeed in life). For Americans, this fact almost always works in our favor, and many Americans take this privilege quite for granted. Most of the world is open to us to freely travel, even if few take advantage of this unique ability.

I am admittedly naive in this regard, though I’m understanding it more and more as I travel. When I was in Thailand last year, I was struck by the stark difference in a US citizen visiting Thailand vs. a Thai citizen visiting the US. A US citizen merely flashes his passport and has a simple 30 second conversation and is granted a 30-day visa that can be extended fairly easily to up to 6 months.

A Thai citizen on the other hand, in order to simply visit the US, needs to prepare and present complicated paperwork complete with references, bank statements, etc. that can take months to prepare.

Americans do have some restrictions, though, due in part to our government’s activity overseas. In particular, the countries of Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, are likely unsafe for a bicycle trip.

Now some may claim that our state department’s advisories for these countries border on overly cautious, or that there are indeed safe parts of the country to visit, and I’m sure that is somewhat true; I believe people everywhere are fundamentally good and welcoming, and probably we would be fine. But there are bad actors out there, and there are incidents targetting US citizens, so I feel that it would be foolish to flaunt our freedom in the face of these warnings simply to accomplish an arbitrary goal of our holiday cycling tour. I have read stories of other cyclists from western countries who have put security in those countries in danger so that they could cycle their chosen routes, and I simply don’t think that’s a good decision.

So instead, I’m trying to find an acceptable route from Istanbul, Turkey to New Delhi, India. A simple option would be to hop on a plane, and there are many flights available. But we’d skip a huge portion of Asia by doing so, and we’d also arrive in India during the monsoon season; waiting another few months would be much better. One other option I’m looking into is cycling north through Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, and some of the -stans to end up in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. This, apparently, is a popular place for backpackers to hang out while they work on getting their east Asia visas sorted out, and there are quick and cheap direct flights to New Delhi.

I’m warming up to this option, and I’d love to hear your feedback!

Doing Things You’re Bad At…

Today marks the day that I’m quitting doing what I’m good at and beginning to focus on what I suck at.

For most of my life, I’ve focused on the things that I believe I am good at. Our western culture teaches us that we should find a specialty and focus on it to become the best we can be. And it makes sense; experts are generally rewarded, in one way or another. I consider myself an expert computer programmer, and I have enjoyed my experience and wouldn’t give it up for anything.

So it’s been quite an interesting journey the past few years as I’ve found myself wanting to explore the world and myself more deeply than what is defined by my career. It feels odd to focus on things that I’m not proficient in, but one thing that I have learned very quickly is that nothing can teach you more about yourself than by doing something you are bad at.

It’s something we all fear; trying and failing. But it’s also something that wakes up our minds in a way that nothing else can. When we purposefully try to do something that we have no idea how to do, we are doing one very important thing: we are disengaging our muscle memory and for a moment, becoming intensely mindful. We have to carefully observe everything around us and determine with a beginner’s mind how to proceed.

It is only in this state of complete mindfulness where we learn new skills and begin to understand more about ourselves and the world and people around us. It is only by putting ourselves into this discomfort and uncertainty that we can really expect to grow as a person.

So today I will start doing the things I am scared to do. I will ask myself every day how I am going to make myself uncomfortable. And, even though I’m scared about it, I will put myself in these situations.

Afterall, why would I want today to be the same as yesterday?