Happy Happy Joy Joy

I told a friend that I wanted to take a six-month sabbatical from work and travel the world. He knows that I spend a lot of time writing at Starbucks. So we were taking one night and he urged, more like proclaimed, that I go on my sabbatical immediately because that would make me happy. There must have been an awkward look on my face because my friend tried harder to convince me that I’d be happy traveling.

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I’ve talked about this before, the difference between happiness, being content and at peace, versus the enjoyment of an experience.

What’s interesting is that people mix those two up a lot. They often link happiness with having things like cool cars, cool clothes, cool watches, cool boyfriends or girlfriends. Essentially, their status in life determines their level of happiness. The problem is that status can be taken away, and the enjoyment of an experience is always temporary. So if I buy a super cool car, I’ll feel the joy of having a new toy, but eventually I’m going to need a new experience to get another endorphin hit. That can mean buying something new over and over again, sort of like a drug habit. So it’s no surprise that the poorest people in America tend to carry the most credit card debt. They may not be satisfied with their lot in life, so they try to buy their way into happiness.

Happiness is being content with your lot in life. Not that people can’t strive to be better, but they do not need anything in order to be happy. There is nothing that people need to do because contentment and peace is the natural state of the mind. It’s one of the reasons why people tout meditation as a way to center oneself. From what little I know about meditation, it aims to quiet the mind, lessening the number of thoughts that crowd your head.

When we look at why people are unhappy, or unsatisfied with life, most of the time it’s the comparison phenomenon. For example, if my friend gets a super cool car, and he’s younger than I am, I may think to myself, “I’m a loser because I don’t have a super cool car. How’d he get it before me?” Then I may feel like crud cuz I just drive a champagne-colored Toyota Camry. So even though my natural state is peace, I cover that up with a cruddy thought. And thoughts are the main driver of our emotions.

This is evident given how advertisers prey on our emotions. The Axe commercials are a classic example.

We see this commercial and think, “Yeah, that could work.” So we men go out and buy Axe Body Spray with the hopes of getting more chics. Of course, when this reality doesn’t manifest itself, we become unhappy because our expectations weren’t met.

That’s another thing. Expectations. Society has a knack for telling us that we’re not fulfilling our full potential and we should expect more. However, life has no schedule. People come into their own on their own time. I know. That either sounds obvious or repetitive. Or both! Still, if we are judging ourselves by what society dictates, then we’ll find ourselves falling behind or trying to keep pace with it. Even if we find that we’re ahead of the game, we’ll self-impose a new bar, goal, and chase that. What we fail to enjoy is the journey. Even though there is enjoyment in finishing a project, the journey is the most important part. The trials and tribulations of creating often leads to great wisdom and skill. Without this aspect, our civilization will become stagnant.

I write every day because that’s my temperament. My writing requires that I do this on a daily basis, that I continue to learn to hone my craft. And I’m at peace when I write, except when I want to kill a character and that character won’t let me because I need him to complete a task. So I’m not sure if my friend sees me writing and assumes that I’m not happy. But I think he links happiness and joy together and they’re really two different things.

The One Is Out There

No. I'm not talking about Heysus Kristo nor Thomas Anderson, aka Neo. I'm talking about soul mates.

I was consoling a friend because her relationship had ended. I knew there was nothing I could say except to listen. From my perspective, this break up was a good thing because she was entrenched in a relationship that wasn't going anywhere. She wanted a child and marriage, and her ex had told her he didn't from the beginning. So he was upfront. But she just wanted to have some fun, so she decided to have some fun with him. A year had flown by and he didn't change his mind about marriage and children. She knew he wouldn't, but as I've said, she was stuck, like a sabertooth sinking in a tar pit.

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Part of her being entrenched was that she had been afraid of going through the pain of a breakup. I get that. But loving someone and knowing that you're not right for each other can play games on your mind. During the relationship, she had questioned her want for children, her need for marriage and wondered if holding back her affections had driven him away. After the breakup, she found herself wanting to reconcile with her ex, throwing out her wants and needs and forgetting how he had treated her because the fear of being alone haunted her.

Searching for some answer or meaning, she decided to talk to a coach that specializes in relationships. The coach had told her that a man with all the qualities and attributes that my friend wanted existed. She was surprised to hear this, and asked, "He is?" The coach confirmed, essentially stating that the one is out there. My friend was relieved and felt much better about her predicament. Her biological alarm clock was going off, and her hopes of having a child was waning.

When I had been consoling my friend, it never occurred to me to tell her that the one was out there. Even if the thought had crossed my mind, I would still never tell her this. I don't believe in the one. I don't know if a man with all the qualities and attributes that she wants is out there. And even if he was, there's no way for anyone to know if he will meet my friend. And if they were to meet and got married and had kids, he'd change and grow and become a new person. Just like a real boy.

Still, my friend had felt better and been relieved. So, didn’t the coach’s statement help her cope with the emotional fallout of her breakup? Cope means to deal effectively with something difficult. If this statement only pacifies her for a moment, then no, it doesn't help because she still needs to heal from her breakup. Sometimes that can be painful.

There are going to be moments where she'll want to cry. She won't want to eat. She may want to stay home and not see people. That's perfectly fine. Sometimes it sunny. Sometimes it rains.

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When she told me what the coach had said, I did not challenge it. The reason is simple. Just as I can't know if a man of her dreams exists, I don't know if he doesn't. Nor do I know whether or not they'll meet. And even if they met, would he marry her and be the father of her child? I tell her all the time. Humans are awful at telling the future. Extraordinarily horrible. We can make educated guesses. But educated or not, they're still guesses.

My advice was simple. Process these feelings. Cry. Talk to people. Eat ice cream. Tons of it. No, don't do that. Go outside. Whatever she wants to do. This isn't her first rodeo. She's come out of past breakups fine. She'll come out of this fine as well.

Afterward, move forward. Have hope. There are tons of people out there. I mean, if a ton is 2,000 pounds, and the average man weighs around 160 pounds, that's 12.5 men per ton. There are forty million people in California alone. In other words, there's hella men for her to meet. Whatever the next step is, be it dating sites, going out with friends, putting herself out there is a great first step. The other choice is giving up. To do that would only fulfill her fear of dying alone.

Hope. If we can't change our past or tell the future, then hope helps point the mind in the right direction.

Participation Trophies

I was out with a bunch of millenials last night. It's interning for me because I was probably more than twice as old as most of them. Some of them probably made more than twice as much money than I. We were hanging out on a roof top of a building where Google has offices down in SoMA in San Francisco.

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One of the guys kept throwing his hands up or shrugging anytime someone made a comment he didn't like. In talking to him, I sensed that he felt he was too good to hang out with us. One of the girls told him he could leave and didn't have to stay. Lo and behold, he did not.

"What's going on  man?" I asked.

He shrugged. "Just bored."

“So what do you want to do?”

"I don't know. Go home and sleep."

As you can see, we had a very deep conversation about life.

Throughout the night, he made disparaging comments about some of the women. And I wasn't sure if he was trying to pickup on them by negging them. I could tell by talking to these ladies that they were sure of themselves. Not that you couldn't banter with them, but negging only works with women who have low confidence or self esteem. These women want the approval of others, so when someone negs them, they may feel the need to prove their worth. This awful dance of predator and prey helps contribute to the idea that women want assholes. What women want is someone who's confident. And being an asshole is a facade that looks like confidence. But it's really just temperament.

I'm not a pickup artist, so I'll end my rant on the subject here.

The reason I'm talking about this particular person is because he seemed to feel that he knew everything. Or that he's on another level above. And that reminded me of myself when I was his age. There were moments where I thought I knew it all. What I wanted. What life was about.

I was completely wrong.

As I get older, I'm realizing how much more there is to learn, especially when it comes to the things that I'm passionate about: writing, storytelling, relationships, health and fitness. The more knowledge and wisdom I attain, the more that I want to know. At least that's how it feels. However, there are two consoling thoughts.

The easy one is this: You only need to know what you need to know when you need to know it.

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A couple of years ago, I bought a sedan. The key fob couldn't unlock the car remotely, so I had to insert the key into the door and twist to unlock it. How could anyone live like that? Who unlocks a car with the actual key? Spoiled much? I watched a bunch of YouTube videos on how to take apart the car door, how to remove the locking mechanism, and replace it with a new one. I had to do this for three of the four doors. Needless to say, I got pretty proficient. After I sold the car my knowledge of taking the door apart slowly faded away. Still, if I had to do it again, it'd be easier, but I'd still have to watch the video just to refresh my memory.

The second consoling thought is that people can learn as they work toward something. For me, I learn the best this way because I'm applying what I need to know when I need it. At work we have these trainings that we have to attend. The way it works is that someone spits knowledge as they flip through the slides. I'm mainly a kinesthetic learner. In other words, I learn by doing. Imagine someone teaching you how to swim by telling you how to swim. And then he throws you into a pool. Good luck.

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Writing was very much like the swimming example. I jumped into the deep end of the pool and wrote my first novel. It sucked. Then I read books on writing and then applied what I learned as I wrote. The second novel sucked. Spending the next four years rewriting required that I learn more about writing and story, which improved the novel. Somewhat. The next step was hiring a writing coach. She accelerated the learning process for me by being blunt, which was a great thing. Sugarcoating how bad my writing was would only slow my progression. It’s like getting participation trophies. They may soften the blow of a loss, and in doing so may not allow that person to process that loss and learn from it. The next step in the process has been passing what I've learned to my writing group. A writing group is really important because we get to discuss and trade ideas on each other's pages. Doing this has helped me cement the lessons my writing coach had taught.

The temperament that one knows all only stops the learning. Or at the very least leaves the person closed to new ideas. Obviously, not all ideas are good or useful. But you'll never know until you listen.

Sticks and Stones

"You care about what people think about you. I know you care," my friend told me. Not said. But told.

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I was making fun of her friend who hates my guts. She seems to have a level of Asperger's syndrome. If you're a fan of The Big Bang Theory, the character Sheldon Cooper suffers from it. He's socially awkward and has a hard time reading people.

I said, "Your friend definitely cares about what people think of her."

"No. She just hates you."

"She told you not to invite me to a networking event. That means she cares."

My friend thought for a moment. "She doesn't want to be associated with you among business people."

Smiling, I nod. "She cares."

Then my friend went on a calm tirade, telling me that I care about what people think about me. She assured me over and over that I did.

No. In general, I don't.

I have an acquaintance at the gym. One day, she was telling me about a guy who was hitting on her. And she shucked him off because she was not interested.

"Don't you feel good when a guy hits on you?" I asked.

She shrugged. "I know I look good." She does. "But I feel safe with you."

"I’m not menacing to you?"

"Well, if you're gay, then I'm safe. You won't hurt me."

I was like…

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"Yea. If you're gay, that's OK. I'm safe."

I wasn't sure why she jumped from feeling good about herself to assuming I was gay. I wanted to get back to my workout and didn't want to put forth the effort to tell her that I wasn't.

Many people initially think I'm a woman because I have long hair. I don't correct them. Their mistaken assumption won't make my penis fall off. At least, that hasn't happened.

And that's the crux of it all. What people think about you changes nothing about you. Taking offense only gives it power.

If I took offense to my gym friend, and berated her, then there's some part of me that feels insecure about my own sexuality. Or that somehow my image doesn't fulfill what I think a manly man should look like. And that's ridiculous because trying to prove to someone else that I'm not gay or that I'm manly doesn't make me any more or less of those things.

What's important is what we think of ourselves.

Let's slow down here. There are moments where I think I'm a loser for whatever reason. Maybe I'm comparing myself to someone, and I feel like crap because I'm not as successful as that person. In that moment that I feel like a loser, I'm not really a loser. It's just a feeling caused by that thought. That's it.

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However, if I continue down that road of thinking I'm a loser, then what may happen is that my actions may change. Maybe I’ll stop going to the gym. Or that I’ll get fired from my job because I don't try as hard. And my perception of reality may change. For example, I'll become angry at people because I think they're treating me like a loser. I may treat others badly as a result. All of this can lead me down the road of being and acting like a loser, which can make me angrier…it's a loop.

The moment I let go of the thought that I'm a loser, my mind will clear itself up, and my emotional state will return to peace.

Letting go is always the difficult part. I used to think that letting go meant stuffing my emotions down. That doesn't work. Imagine a heavy thought that you're carrying around in the physical form of a twenty pound weight. Now, try stuffing that weight down your pants. You might not see that weight, but it’s still weighing you down. Trust me. It ain't easy walking around with twenty pounds in your pants. I'm Asian. I know.

Letting go of a thought is like letting go of that twenty pound weight in that it doesn't weigh you down anymore. You're literally free of it. That doesn't mean you won't pick up it up again. So be aware.

You'll know when you've released yourself of that heavy thought because you don't feel it's affects on you anymore. If you merely stuffed that thought down, then you'll feel it somewhere in the back of your mind.

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We're all masters at letting go of thought because we do this every day. There have been studies that suggest that we have 60,000 thoughts a day. Holding onto each one would crush us, causing a mental breakdown. Most people don't have mental breakdowns because as each thought comes, it goes.

What tends to happen is that we focus on the thoughts that "matter" to us. If I was insecure about my sexuality, and my gym friend comes and suggests that I'm gay, then my mind will go into a whirlpool of thoughts about what she said. But I know what I like, so I have no need to confirm or deny my heterosexuality. I just want to get back to my workout.

Back to my friend who assured me that I care about what people think about me.

Generally, I don't. There are times when I do. If I'm on a date with a lady that I really like, then my ego likes to step in front of me and analyze everything that she does and says. That means I'm not listening to and engaging with my date, which likely is putting her off.

My friend is probably projecting her need for peoples' approval onto me. I know her well enough that she does put a lot of value into other people's opinion of her, so it's difficult for her to imagine how I do not.

Everybody projects at some level. If I'm watching a video of someone hiking the trail to Angels Landing, I freak out. I see a picture of a person sitting on the edge of a cliff, I freak out. Me freaking out is irrational because the threat of falling isn't present to me. I'm just watching a video or looking at a picture. But I'm projecting my deep fear of heights.

Hopefully, it's obvious at this point that reality is projected by our minds. That one person can be in misery, while the next person is experiencing orgasmic joy. And that thought is the main ingredient of our experience. This gives us a lot of power. That peace and happiness are not determined by others or by our circumstances. How peaceful we are in our minds determines that.

Resist!

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Resist! Ban! Boycott! This is crap! These were some of the words screamed from nerds far and wide when they saw The Last Jedi. I was definitely one of those nerds, prompting me to explore one of the reasons the film sucked. What I didn't think would happen were the fans' boycott of Solo: A Star Wars Story. Occasionally, I'll see YouTube recommendations on the subject of the fan backlash and news that Disney is pulling out before committing themselves to another evil stepchild of a Star Wars movie.

One vlog asked the question whether Rei is a Mary Sue, a character that can do no wrong and is good at everything. The vlogger did a much better job than I, proving why she is. And it's not about gender. For me, it's about the character set up.

This particular vlog had mentioned that Disney execs stated that the ensuing films would clear up why Rei is the way she is. This is bad storytelling.

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In fiction, be it book, film or TV, the suspension of disbelief is a willingness to suspend one's critical faculties and believe something surreal. The reader/viewer goes into fiction with this already built in. Meaning, when an audience goes to see a film, they know that everything on the screen is fake, but they've put that knowledge aside. They want to be taken on a rollercoaster ride. They want to feel the ups and downs of the characters without risking anything themselves. So it falls to the storyteller to maintain that suspension of disbelief. Otherwise, the audience will be taken out of the experience because they'll inherently question the logic of the story.

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't. —Mark Twain

In The Force Awakens (TWA), Rei as a character wasn't set up well. She's never been off planet, she's not part of any military, and her parents are unknown to her, and as a result, to the audience. She's great at taking things apart, but that doesn't make her a great pilot. So when she's able to fly the Millennium Falcon like a seasoned veteran, the audience will naturally wonder how and why.

Getting back to the Disney execs. The idea that the following film(s) will show why Rei is good at everything is bad storytelling. At this point, it's too late. This has to be done first in TWA in order to support the logic for the following events. Try going to a bank and have them give you a loan before you can prove that you can pay it back. Common. I dare ya.

Well, Jimmy, have you heard of subprime loans that caused the 2008 financial crisis?

Yeah, but we've learned our lesson and banks ain't gonna do that again.

Uh...not so fast my slanty-eyed friend. Subprimes are back!

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Still, the fan backlash is real. The low box office numbers for the following film, The Last Jedi, supports it. And, of course, Solo couldn't escape the bad storytelling decisions Disney had made. Solo flopped in the box office, despite it being a better film.

For me, each novel or film has to be contained in and of itself. They can have cliff hangers. But the arc of the character/story should be complete. And they can lead to another arc or be a part of a greater arc. I've been very conscious of that when writing my novels. This is the keystone to why I love story. And of course to get chics. That has not worked out well. They don't seem to care that I'm an artiste.

Life Has No Schedule

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I went to World Con 76. Their convention is much like the San Diego Comic Con, except there aren't any big Hollywood celebrities, you're not forced to move with the crowd because there aren't 150,0000 people attending, costumed super heroes and villains don't roam the convention center, and the con centers around books. Specifically SFF, science fiction and fantasy. This is the group that gives out the Hugo Award for the genre, which is like getting an Oscar. So much of fiction is riddled with romance, because that's what sells, so it's heart warming to see an organization dedicated to SFF.

I was excited to go to the Hugo nominees' readings where the authors read a selection from their own books. There might have been sixty to eighty seats, but they were all taken, so I had to stand. I didn't care. I wanted to hear excerpts from great writers. Then we were told that the fire marshal wouldn't allow us to stand as it was a fire hazard. WhatchutalkinaboutWillis? I had a clear path to the door had there been a fire. Still, I and the other standers were asked to leave. I suggested to the room we bribe the fire marshall, but that wasn't well received. Especially from those seated. Bastards. Joking...things like bribing or paying off porn stars and Playboy models ain't my thing.

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I decided to go to a talk about how aliens might think. The panel was made of two university professors whose specialties lay in human consciousness, and a SFF author who studied AI at MIT. Her name is SL Huang, which I assumed was her pen name, since the panel kept calling her Lisa. She sort of had this Natalie Portman thing going on. Dating has been hard for me, so maybe my celebrity crush was manifesting itself in some way. But I checked out her website, and she's quite an accomplished author. She had to be in her thirties. She looked younger, but Asians don't raisin.

Then my insecurity reared its ugly head into my mind. Here, I'm writing an article that will likely never be read, had been going to a writing group work-shopping my second book when the first one isn't even published, and still trying to get representation from a literary agent. Loser!

Breath...om...Keyser Söze...

I reminded myself that life has no schedule. Except that things are born and then they die. I know, real insightful. It seems people need to plan everything that happens in between these two points. I have to graduate high school in order to go to college, then I can get a job and earn enough for a down payment for my first home by this age. I'll need to meet The One soon if I want to have kids because I don't want to have them too old, otherwise I'd be too old. Eventually I'll have to change jobs every now and then so I can get the requisite pay increases and save for my retirement. And I do want to leave something to the kids when I die because they're my children and that's what a parent does.

In the span of 105 words, I've scheduled my whole life. All of that, by the way, is crap. Life has no schedule. Some people die before they're born. Others die after more than a century has past. A lucky few make it big in their chosen industry. A majority do not. Some people earn their way in. Others do not...ahem...the Orange One.

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My writing group and I had been interviewed and on a podcast. One of our writers had an interesting story. He volunteered at the San Francisco Writers Conference where he set up and tore down rooms for presenters. He set a room once for an author who pulled out binders full of rejections letters from literary agents that had amounted to hundreds. He eventually made it, but it was through sheer effort and not giving up. In contrast, a dozen agents rejected JK RowlingKathryn Stocket, who wrote The Help, was rejected by 60 agents. The point is that different people make it at different times. And because we as humans are very bad at telling the future, we don't know what's coming around the bend. Had Stocket given up on the 59th rejection, she would have never found her current agent and her ensuing success.

Does that mean you should never give up? No. I think there are circumstances that may indicate ending something is good. I had given up on acting because I fell out of love with it. My best friend and I had decided not to open our own martial arts school after planning and working on it for a couple of years. So far a reason to give up my writing hasn't presented itself to me. Having a never quit attitude doesn't guarantee success, however you define success. But you'll never succeed if you don't start or give up too early. And be cautious about attaching your happiness to circumstance. Not making it in any industry doesn't affect your happiness.

Life has no schedule.

Nope

Couple of weeks ago I went on an urban hike in the city of Saint Francis (Frisco to yous not from dees parts). This was a fifteen mile hike through the Mission, up Russian Hill, out to the Marina, meandering through Pac Heights, venturing into hippie town, AKA Hashbury (Haight/Ashbury), saw the Painted Ladies, ending up at Civic Center where we devoured our dinner, downed some beers, and traded words, sentences actually.

Earlier in the morning, we had met up at Tartine before the hike, a boutique bakery that sold baked good. I know. Captain Obvious here. They're known for their croissants, which costs $4.99 after tax. Damn. After waiting in a 30-minute line and getting a small loan to pay for my flaky bread, I stepped outside and sat down to focus my attention on experiencing this masterpiece. With each morsel, I noted how flaky and crunchy the outside was and loved chewing on the thick moist inside. To say this is a fulfilling experience would gloss over how satisfying the croissant had been. And then I cursed myself for not buying a second one, but that would require a second small loan. Now, the sign of a good croissant is how much of it got on your lap after you're done eating it. Looking down confirmed the flake fall had been good.

 Her dog, Flake

Her dog, Flake

I looked over at our hike leader, and she was entering her calories from her croissant. "I'm trying to lose 20 pounds."

Whoa. That's like an arm!

We were off. One of the guys delved into a debate with our leader about her weight loss. I was eavesdropping, which was easy because I was walking next to them.

“So that's all you do is count calories?” the dude asked.

"Yep," she said. "Most of weight loss comes from managing your food intake."

"Don't you think adding exercise would help?"

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"Nope."

"Decreasing your caloric intake doesn't mean you'll just lose fat. You'll lose muscle as well unless you do something to keep it." The dude was correct.

When I had studied kinesiology, we explored and looked at studies in regards to this very subject. Managing your diet was key. Including some sort of weight bearing exercise helped keep the muscle a person had, which at the very least kept their basal metabolism level. Cutting calories with no exercise meant that fat and muscle loss could lead to a lower metabolic rate. Think of it this way. Imagine burning a hundred-hour candle. It'd take the flame a hundred hours to burn through it. Ok, Cap. Burning the candle at both ends would cut that time in half, much like lowering your calories and doing some exercise. But lowering your calories not only was ineffective, but your body is not a candle flame. It would adapt and lower its metabolism to conserve energy, a side effect.

I bring this up because our hike leader seemed very close-minded. I dug a little further on the reason she didn't believe this would help, and she admitted that she was lazy. Lazy? She was taking us on a 15-mile urban hike. What the hell is your definition of lazy?

I see two things going on. Being closed minded hinders progress. We see this politically. Religiously. Traditionally. When I had taken martial arts, the ol'grandmaster espoused, "What you're learning here is over 2,000 years old. There's wisdom in what I teach."

Yeah. That wisdom should have told you that shit had changed. But he was very reluctant to change his ways, always touting formality and tradition. He touted thinking outside the box and being a leader. But you can't do those things without throwing out the old and exploring the new.

The second thing that I saw from our hike leader was her unwillingness to do whatever it took to lose those 20 pounds. I'm not suggesting she actually cut off her arm. But she had been doing the minimum, which was counting her calories. Science had proven that doesn't work. At least for the general population. Exercising her whole body could be an important component of changing her body composition. However, no amount of exercise can work off the worst diets. So her initial effort of keeping track of what she ate was the keystone to her goal.

For me, I try and learn from anything and everything. When my writing group and I meet, I'm listening to everyone's critique, even when they're not talking about my pages. When I critique pages, I don't see everything. So it's enlightening when someone spots things that I miss. From that, I learn just as much as the writer whose pages are being talked about. Because I can't know everything. I don't see everything. But I can think outside of the box by listening to what others have to say.