2020 Vision: Continuing Rhythms

Like many people, I often view a new year—and even more so a new decade—as an opportunity to reset and establish new resolutions and goals. And it can indeed be a good time to reflect on the past year and consider changes to make in the new one.

As a year starts to wind down I begin reflecting on the previous year, and start reflecting on the hopes and dreams for the new year. I think about all the ways I want to grow, the new experiences I want to have, and the goals that I want to reach to make it a successful year.

I launch into the new year with great excitement and passion. I write down my new goals (some would call them resolutions) to keep track of all my small victories as I work toward the big goal that represents the big victory.

Unfortunately, as the days turn into weeks turn into months, I find my passion and excitement beginning to wane. I start missing a day here, and missing a day there. And pretty soon my list of ten goals get whittled down to 8 goals as I give up on a couple, usually with the rationalization that my priorities have shifted. Then my list gets further whittled down to 5 goals, and then down to 2, and pretty soon I’ve thrown in the towel on all the goals. And it’s not even February yet.

I scold myself for being too undisciplined, too weak, too unfocused to even be able to stick to my goals for a month. I’m disappointed in myself. I feel like a failure. I’m embarrassed, and let the fanfare of the goals that I so proudly shared with people fade into obscurity, hoping no one will remember that I set goals in the first place.

In previous years my goals would often take forms like the following:

  • Wake up at 6am every day
  • Read 50 pages a day
  • Exercise every Monday through Friday for at least 30 minutes
  • Write for at least 15 minutes a day
  • Create one photo a day
  • Have a date night with my wife once a week

Those goals weren’t bad per se, and they were indicative of deeper values such as physical wellbeing, ongoing learning, relationships, and creative output. But, over time I found them to be too specific and viewed through a lens of success or failure. I was either successful in waking up every day at 6am or I failed. I was either successful in reading 50 pages per day or I failed. And over the course of 365 days there was inevitably a day (or many) that I didn’t do a specific goal. This usually led to abandonment of the goal.

Specific, measurable goals are valuable and have their place, but they need to be created on a foundation of mission, vision, and values that guide the overarching rhythms of my life. It is my mission and values that lead to sustainable rhythms, and sustainable rhythms that provide the context for helpful goals. I don’t want my goals to be driven primarily by the calendar though. There are other factors that need to be weighed when establishing goals.

So, last year I shifted my approach. Rather than setting goals, I focused on implementing rhythms into my life; rhythms that would have the flexibility to wax and wane, yet represented a bigger picture view of my life and the deeper values I sought to live out on a daily basis. I chose to focus on the following rhythms:

  • Read — that could be a book, newspaper, article, magazine, blog post, etc. It could be nonfiction, fiction, or even children’s books. By the very act of reading I would learn and grow
  • Pursue physical wellbeing — Whether I went for a long row on my ergometer, went for a run with my dog, or went for a walk with my family, I was getting up and active, and that contributed to my wellbeing on a daily basis
  • Schedule quality time with my wife — My wife and I don’t get out on dates as much as we’d like. That’s often the reality with three kids, one of whom is now almost two years old. The logistics and costs of getting out on dates can be hard to overcome. But that didn’t mean we couldn’t spend quality time together. Even if it was a few minutes in the evening of intentional conversation, hearing about each other’s days, listening to what was going on in each other’s hearts…that’s beautiful quality time that helped us grow a stronger marriage.
  • Schedule quality time with my kids — It isn’t possible to do everything I’d like to with my kids. But bringing my creative first fruits to my relationship with each child, even if only for a few minutes a day, helped build a stronger relationship with each child.
  • Unplug – Spend less time in front of screens, especially in the mornings and evenings
  • Rise early – Start my days off with some of the above rhythms (and watch the sunrise while enjoying a cup of coffee)
  • Think – Create space to think, reflect, meditate, pray
  • Create – Create rather than consume
  • Serve – Seek ways to be a blessing to the people and communities around me

I had times when my rhythms were stronger and times when they were weaker. But that was part of the point. I didn’t view them as success or failure, but rather as important parts of my life that could ebb and flow as needed depending on what was going on in my life at a particular time.

As I move into 2020, my vision for the coming year is to continue strengthening these rhythms to help me live more intentionally and meaningfully as an individual, with my family, and in my community.

Happy New Year, and may this coming year for you be filled with many blessings, personal flourishing, and new adventures!

A Master in the Art of Living

Today I came across a quote that was attributed to Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia (a company whose mission and culture is worth studying, btw). After a bit of digging, I discovered that the quote was actually said by François-René de Chateaubriand, a French philosopher who founded Romanticism in French literature. I could reflect further on the quote and the ideas therein, but I think it stands nicely on its own.

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.”

François-René de Chateaubriand

Damn You, Whispering Voices!

Those whispering voices in my head just won’t shut up.

“That blog post isn’t good enough to publish.”

“People won’t like that photograph.”

“Everyone else’s photos are way better than yours.”

“Don’t hit publish yet. Keep working on it until it’s better.”

“You don’t really have much of value to write about.”

“You really aren’t all that creative.”

Damn you, whispering voices! #shakesfistatsky

This year I’ve been working hard to develop new creative rhythms in my life. Given that it has been a month since I last published a post on this blog, it’s evident that I have a long way to go.

I could look to inspiring quotes to keep me on track.

“It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.” — Myquillyn Smith

If we are not willing to fail we will never accomplish anything. All creative acts involve the risk of failure. — Madeleine L’Engle

“Real artists ship.” — Steve Jobs

“The only way to find your voice is to use it. It’s hardwired, built into you. Talk about the things you love. Your voice will follow.” — Austin Kleon

Amazing quotes to create by, for sure. But perhaps Anne Lamott’s advice is most helpful for such a time as this:

“How to write: Butt in chair. Start each day anywhere. Let yourself do it badly. Just take one passage at a time. Get butt back in chair.”

Anne Lamott

Despite the fits and starts, I’m not going to give up. I’ll miss a day here. I’ll miss a day there. But I’ll always get up the next day, put my butt in chair and write, one passage at a time. Not only that, but I’ll also draw, color, cut, tape, remix, glue, sing, photograph, print, build, and dance. I’ll keep pressing forward to build stronger creative rhythms and output.

And in the spirit of creating, below is a photo of the first page of my new journal. H/t to Snoopy (and The Nester) for the reminder that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.

This “paper and pencil” notebook is my semi-private home for writing, drawing, and creating collages. I won’t often post photos of my journal here on this blog. So, follow me on Instagram for periodic snapshots of my journal and other visual work.

05.01.19 — May Day! May Day! May Day!

Keep Writing, in Bite-sized Chunks When Necessary

The past few weeks I have been busy preparing to move my family into temporary housing. It’s a long story. But the short one is our landlord is selling the house, and we had to be out by the end of March. Every day consisted of work, packing, trips to the storage unit, driving my kids to their normal activities, and squeezing in time with my family. It was a busy time, and culminated last week in a final push to move out of our home, clean it up, and hand the keys back to our landlord.

You can probably guess about how many days in that time I sat down to write.

The good news is it was more than zero. The bad news is it was a grand total of one or two days at best. So much for my daily rhythm of writing.

I could rationalize the reasons why I didn’t write. And some of the reasons—ahem, excuses—were understandable. But the bottom line is I didn’t get it done, and with the standard excuses I let myself off the hook. On Sunday, as we wrapped up the move, I reflected on what I could have done to keep up a daily rhythm of writing.

I may not have had thirty minutes or an hour every day to sit down and write. But I did have five minutes here or ten minutes there. And I could have taken those bite-sized chunks of time to write bite-sized chunks of content.

We’ve all experienced those times when we didn’t feel like we had the time to write. But we must find ways to keep writing. I have listed a few bite-sized writing prompts below, based off a quick brainstorm. Try them out the next time you feel too busy to write.

  • Write for five minutes about what you are experiencing with your five senses. What do you see around you? Describe what you hear. What do you smell? Touch something and describe how it feels. If you’re eating or drinking something, what does it taste like?
  • Write for five minutes using Merriam Webster’s “Word of the Day” as a prompt.
  • Write for five minutes about a value by which you try to live your life.
  • Visit The Most Dangerous Writing App and write for five minutes about…writing.
  • Write a list of the things you did or experienced today, both the mundane and the unusual.
  • Write a list of 5-10 people you admire, with a quick statement of why.
  • Do copywork. Pick one of your favorite books or poems, select a passage, and copy it down. Bonus points: get off your computer and write it by hand.
  • Ask your kids (or anyone nearby) to give you a character(s), a scene, and a situation. Write a quick story, in five minutes, based on those prompts.

Whether it’s writing, drawing, reading, thinking, exercising—anything you pursue as a regular rhythm—you’ll face those times when you feel too busy to keep it up. Those are especially the times you need to keep at it, even if only in bite-sized chunks. Those bite-sized chunks of time and creative output will help you sustain the rhythms that are important for your wellbeing.

The Importance of Connecting with Others to Create Community

Today, Jenny Anderson reminded me to “keep connecting with people, and in time, you will have a community.”

For many years now, Dawn (my wife) and I have discussed, wrestled with, and explored community. We’ve had our highs and lows, experiencing sweet community in places like Manitou Springs, CO, Chiang Mai, Thailand, and San Francisco, CA. We’ve also experienced the discouraging lack of community in other places we’ve lived. In each location we’ve learned new lessons about how—and how not to—build community.

One such lesson is the importance of simply connecting with and loving the people around us. That includes the people who live across the street, fellow parents at our child’s dojo, or people we happen to meet in a coffee shop. We daily come into contact with all kinds of people, and we can’t control how they treat the people around them. But we can control how we treat the people around us. And that includes caring for, in word and action, every person with whom we come into contact.

Our experience has been that we develop authentic community when we seek to love our neighbors (in my book, that includes everyone), and over time when—sometimes quickly and sometimes not—our neighbors seek to love us. When we make those connections on a daily basis, we create and cultivate community.

I’m reminded also of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words:

The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

There have been times in my life when I would seek community, talk about community, or attempt to build community according to some predefined idea. But, as Bonhoeffer recognized, I often loved the dream of community instead of actually loving the people around me, and allowing those acts of love to create community.

Jenny Anderson and Dietrich Bonhoeffer are right, and we would do well to put their words into practice every day. Connect with your neighbor, love your neighbor, serve your neighbor, and allow them to do the same to you. When you do that every day, over time you will experience deep, long-lasting community.

A Most Inauspicious Start

A most inauspicious start, indeed.

Yet a start it is. Which is infinitely better than not starting at all.

Allow me introduce myself. My name is Shun-Luoi Fong. I’m a creator, an adventurer, an entrepreneur, a husband, a father…and with this blog a writer. And since I like to think I can’t be pegged, I’d say that I’m so much more…but that’s for future post.

This is Lifeist, my home for exploring and writing about what it means to be human, and how to live a meaningful life of purpose and adventure.

Why am I starting this blog?

A space to process

I’m both a doer and a thinker, which can create for me quite the busy, and sometimes hectic, life. Every day for me is filled with thoughts, ideas, creations, and experiences that are generally very life-giving to me, but they can often get stuck in my own head space or physical space. It can quickly get overwhelming to process all of it.

My wife is often—with immense grace and patience—on the receiving end of my processing about life. And I have friends who also graciously share life with me, allowing me to process with them, and responding with grace, insightful questions, advice, and helpful pushback. But there is simply too much to life to put it on just a handful of people.

I need a place to more regularly process life, a place to get everything out of my head and onto paper…or digital paper in this case. This blog is my space to process all that I’m thinking, experiencing, and learning about what it means to be human, and what it looks like to live well.

A space to record

Fred Wilson provided a great reminder about the value of blogging publicly to provide a record and timeline on how one is thinking at a given time. Throughout a given day I work my way through a lot of thoughts, ideas and experiences. They arrive, are engaged, but then are often lost for good, forgotten as I move on to other things. This blog is my space to publicly record the things I’m thinking about and learning. And then in the future I can cringe (and learn and grow) as I revisit posts to see just how wrong I was on so many things!

A space to create

I can’t not create. It’s how I’m wired, and is one way I ensure my daily flourishing as a human. While this blog will serve primarily as a creative outlet through the written word, who knows, perhaps I will share in this space some of my other creations.

A space to engage

I’m not interested in speaking into the black hole of the Interwebs, or sitting here quietly gazing at my navel. That wouldn’t be helpful to you, and it would only stunt my growth as an individual. I love people, and I love engaging them in a way that honors our differences, celebrates our shared humanity, and collectively explores what it means to be human. So, even though I currently have an audience of one—if I can count myself as a member of the audience—my intent is to create a space to engage with you and others.

If the purpose of this blog—exploring our humanity and a life well lived—is attractive to you, I invite you to continue reading, subscribe to the email newsletter, and follow me on Twitter.

A space to give

My hope is that this blog is valuable not only to myself, but even more so to you my reader. And while my writing might be pretty messy and leave a lot to be desired, I nonetheless want to give freely of myself—my thoughts and ideas, and lessons that I’ve learned about living well. This blog, such as it is, is my gift to you.

So, welcome to Lifeist. It remains to be seen what the future holds, but let this be my beginning, and an invitation to join me in exploring what it means to be human, and how to live a meaningful life of purpose and adventure!