It Doesn’t Matter Where You Start; Great Journeys Have Humble Beginnings

How are you today? I hope you’ve been well. Today I wanted to share some wisdom I recieved that helped me respect the idea that small, consistent changes are often prerequisites for big change.

There’s a popular Taoist quote that is often misattributed to Confucious: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” I recently learned that this version was a mistranslation of the original Chinese text. There was no symbol or character that represented “one” or “single” to signify the step (and of course they didn’t use miles as a measurement of distance then). A much better interpretation is the following: “The small piece of ground beneath your feet is the starting point for a long journey.” Epic adventures begin from the point on the ground where you stand. Seeds become trees, water vapors become torrential rains and great journeys have humble beginnings; most great things are a result of many small actions over a period of time.

If there are changes you’d like to make in your life, try not to underestimate the smaller actions. Many people might think it’s pointless, or a waste of time, but many of them lack foresight and humility for real change. Try not to be fooled by the words of nearsighted people when your goals are much bigger. Persist and win.

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Dear Friend, Love is Worth it

This is a letter I wrote to a younger friend about why it’s important to believe in positive things, especially love. It might not work out like you planned, but positivity gives you the strength and humility to learn in any process. I hope you find value in this as did I in writing and reflecting on it.

Dear Friend,

I understand that it can be difficult to find the right person to date. But I can’t just stand by and let you believe that just because it’s difficult, that it’s not worth it. When you find the right person, maybe you won’t be together forever. Maybe things will go wrong. But you will most definitely learn. We often see perfect relationships on social media, but these are ultimately fiction — a fragment of people who are a lot more dynamic and strange than just a few snapshots. Try not to be fooled by any narrow concept of what a relationship should be. Get out, be vulnerable and get to know someone. And don’t believe that a handful of negative people represent the whole: it’s simply not true; this type of thinking only propogates negativity and suffering. I’m sure that right now, someone valuable and worth it might be thinking the same thing of other people out there. And maybe like you, they have a friend telling them that not all people are the same, and hopefully they’ll snap out of this negative thinking. We cannot let negative thoughts ever stop us from achieving our goals, be it career or love. The path you’ve chosen for your life is probably difficult. I’m sure there are many people who tell you that it’s not worth it, or that you’re crazy for pursuing it – but you still pursue it regardless because it gives you and others around you happiness. Romance and relationships are the same way friend. We cannot let the world convince us that it’s not worth it. Everything that’s worth it will take time, right? Let’s encourage others to not only give happiness, but hope that their dreams about love and success are valid and attainable.

Your friend,

Jay-Ram

Let Yourself Fail (Sometimes)

Here’s an interesting idea, especially for those of us who are good at many things — a jack of all trades, but master of none — mastery requires giving up things we are good at so that we can focus on becoming the best at one of those things. This is the first step in cultivating your passion.

The primary fear holding most people back is often, “How do I know I’m picking the right thing?” The truth is that this often doesn’t matter, and is actually a hidden fear of rejection. Most people cannot imagine investing so much time and energy into something, only for it to possibly be failure and rejected by society. However this fear is exactly why many people do not succeed at mastering something — they tie their self worth to their results, and let their failures define them. But failure is not final unless you stop trying; failure is not apart from success, but rather is a part of success.

Before beginning any project, consider fully (all of your choices) and then act decisively (pick one). Decide under which circumstances you’ll give up. Then, do not quit until you achieve your desired outcome. There will be times where you’ll feel like your work is meaningless and opinions insignificant, but plowing through this self-doubt is the necessary process of growth and success. Those of us willing to put their soul into the furnace, can forge their spirit into the ultimate weapon. Being good at many things is fun and safe, but mastering something is risky yet necessary for fulfillment.

The Story of Buddha and the Finely Tuned Instrument

Many years ago, Sifu (Teacher/Instructor) Patrick taught me about the Buddhist concept of moderation. In my teenage years, and up until my mid-twenties, I’d frequently swing between emotional extremes of happiness and sadness; my accompanying actions were just as impulsive. I would often isolate myself from friends when going through these extremes to avoid my consequences from affecting them– but this thinking was naive. I was always doing it for me.

Most of my life, I’ve been around people who are unable to practice self-control and emotional stability. Because of this, I believed that controlling my emotions meant to suppress my identity. However, I didn’t realize that living at the extremes removed me from living in the present moment: thinking about the past and the future would use time from today. The story that Sifu shared with me was about Buddha during the ascetic phase of his life:

One day, Buddha fell over next to a river while trying to mediate in his malnourished and emaciated state. Laying weakly by the river bank, he overheard a conversation between a teacher and student passing by on a boat. The teacher was advising the student on the importance of properly tuning an instrument. “If you tighten the string too much, it will snap. And if you give it too much slack, it won’t play.” It was then, that Buddha realized the path of moderation, or “The Middle Way.” Buddha had lived life as both a slack string (one of a lavish prince Siddhartha), and one of a string almost about to break (ascetic monk). But only a finely tuned instrument can bring out the true music from within it.

I share this story with you, because it offered great value for me in my personal growth. May you find the middle path in your own life, and walk it towards success.

One of The Best Compliments Ever

“Are you a Christian, Jay teacher?”

“What?” She caught me off guard, “What makes you say that?”

“Well my mom said that Christians are good people who care about others and help people, so you have to be Christian.”

I didn’t know how to respond. This was clearly meant to be a sweet compliment. But right now, I couldn’t have an in-depth conversation about how people of different religious backgrounds can also help and care about others. At least not here.

I got this tutoring job by a friend’s recommendation, so I had to make a good impression; becoming the Camp’s controversial math tutor wouldn’t be the way to do it. That summer, my friend’s Christian Leadership Camp was short on math teachers. I needed the money and I was great at what I did: teaching math to middle-schoolers. I couldn’t imagine many scenarios where Jesus would come up when teaching algebraic foil methods. All things considered, I accepted the job.

But here we were. Did this student see me as a Christian for staying late to help with homework? Did she see me as Christian for empathizing when she told me her friends thought she was “dumb” and stopped being friends?  Did encouraging her to continue art classes (after seeing her amazing sketches on the margins of their math homework) make me a Christian?

I’m not sure about many of those things. But I do know that this was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received in my life. Being a decent human has no religious boundaries.

The Ascent

I decided to start documenting my journey of becoming a respected author, while things are still new, and I’m figuring out things. I want to be able to remember the beginning of the process, before the “likes” and popularity, so that I can remember the most important part of the journey, and share this with others.

It’s been roughly three months since I began writing every single day, with the purpose of becoming a better writer on my Instagram. I also started to read and write more so that I can have a better understanding of both the topic I wish to speak about (increasing the belief in oneself to do great things by recognizing negative patterns through self-awareness) and writing structure in general. I’m also still trying to figure out my demographic, but I think I’ll be able to narrow it down with more writing. I’ll have to give up podcasting daily so that I’ll have more time to write, and ramp up my audiobook intake.

It was also my first day at my new job today. It felt nice, and I met lots of good people. But at the end of the day, this job is just a tool for my writing and podcast. It’s important to always remember why we do what we do.

Float like a Butterfly

Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest athletes of our time, but his opponents extended far beyond the boxing ring. We too can be the champions of the battles we fight each day if we are adaptable and courageous.

Being a black Muslim in the 1970’s produced its own challenges in the forms of racism and Islamophobia. One of the characteristics that made Ali so remarkable was his ability to stand firm in his beliefs, regardless of who was opposing him. If you look up any video today, you’ll see ferocious confidence in his self-expression.

Being unique today requires tremendous courage to challenge the status quo. Heroes are scarce in our generation because most of us have been taught to limit our critical thinking for a paycheck; by fitting into society like a standardized cog in a machine. Ali found courage within himself and became an individual. You can also cultivate this courage for self-expression.

In nature, a butterfly is able to float because it is light, agile and curious. On the other hand, a bumble bee has similar capabilities but different mindset: workers that’ll defend the queen and hive with their sting. Humans however are not restricted to any particular pattern, because self awareness allow us to change our perspective when presented with new information.

When Muhammad Ali’s saying, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” was also a comment on how humans can adapt their nature. We can be light on our feet and observe like a butterfly, but change and strike with purpose like a bee. We are not restricted to nature’s patterns, but to recognize and change them requires self-awareness and that courage deep inside you. Adapt, and you will overcome anything.

The right team for the right job

If your goal is to build a bridge, then following the advice of a demolitions expert and buying dynamite make no sense. But most of us do this in our lives every day: we take actions opposite of our goals and end up frustrated.

Demolition experts are the negative people in your life. They’ve relentlessly practiced how to locate and identify even the smallest faults and weaknesses to destroy the greatest structures. The reason negative people seldom live positive lives is because they focus on failures their entire life — so they rationalize any risks to avoid taking them. They can easily demolish the foundation of your courage with their years of practice.

On the other hand, an expert bridge builder focuses on strengths, and what materials go well together for a strong structure. His mission is to connect people, and this goal far outweighs any short-term fear of failure. His team and tools are also much different than a demolition expert: one carries dynamite and a wrecking ball machine, and the other employs construction workers and engineers.

Depending on what we are trying to accomplish, we need the right team. Whether you’re trying to build bridges or destroy them, you’ll be able to achieve your goal more efficiently with a team on the same mission as you.