May 312015
 

It would happen with some regularity: I’d have a flight from London to the Netherlands, on a Friday, after work. I’d arrive on Dutch soil, tired and hungry. And there was one thing going through my mind: Hamburger!

The reason they always wrap up your burger is so that you can't immediately see that what you're buying is not what you're getting...

The reason they always wrap up your burger is so that you can’t immediately see that what you’re buying is not what you’re getting…

Rushing through customs, off to Burger King, mouth watering at the thought of a big piece of meat.

With my burger and fries in a bag, I’d head down to the train, having half an hour to concentrate on devouring the greasy goodness.

The first two bites would be awesome! Meat, fat (and probably sugar) hitting my tongue and stomach, sending waves of well-being through my brain. Life is good!

Then I get to bit three to five and the awesomeness is already diminishing. Bite six tastes like cardboard and at bite seven I’m feeling positively disgusted. I vow never to fall for this trap again.

But then next time comes round, I’m tired and hungry and again I find myself standing in line…

It’s silly! I see myself as a smart, educated individual. I actively work to optimize my own happiness. And then something as simple as a hamburger defeats me, time and again! It’s a puzzle really! Or better, it was.

Recently I read an article where they explained that the human brain has different centers for pleasure and craving. And that the craving center, the part that makes you want to get things, is many times larger than the pleasure center, the part that makes you enjoy things.

Historically I’m sure that this was a good idea. It can’t hurt to constantly crave sugar, fat, salt (and sex and alcohol) when their supply is very limited. Something you craved led to something you liked. Easy! It’s only been recently that supermarkets and burger joints provide infinite amounts of whatever foodstuff we want (and the internet and bars provide porn and beer respectively). And too much of something is not a problem for the craving center, but it is for the liking one.

Outlawing advertisement would probably make the worlds such a better place!
Burger King (and many other companies) make good use of this. If they only gave us what we liked, we wouldn’t buy as much. But give us something that we crave and the sky’s the limit (especially with a bit of help from advertisement; it’s not hard to get the craving machine running…)

Knowing this I’m hoping it’ll be a bit easier to stay away from hamburgers and the likes. But I’m sure there are many more things where there is a strong disconnect between the wanting and the having (“shopping” as an institution anyone?). If I come across any more I’ll be sure to let you know…


Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

If you enjoyed this (or another) post, if you have something to add or to ask, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a comment!

May 252015
 

There is a parable in which a young elephant is bought by the circus. The young elephant doesn’t particularly like the circus, would much rather back on the African savanna. To keep the elephant from escaping, a big stake is driven into the ground and the elephant is chained to it. At first the elephant tries with all its might to break the chain or to un-earth the stake, but being young, she is unable to and eventually gives up.

Pictures of chained elephants are depressing: Freedom is so much better!

Pictures of chained elephants are depressing: Freedom is so much better!

Years go by and the young elephant grows into an old elephant. With age comes size and strength; lifting a leg should be enough to uproot the stake, gaining the longed-for freedom. But the elephant doesn’t. Having learned a long time ago that trying to break free is pointless, she quietly acquiesces. Standing there, chained down by nothing more than a failure from long ago.

The parable is usually told to show the strength of old lessons and habits, or how “stuck” people can get in how they have always done things.

There is however a second layer to this.

Imagine that somehow (through an accident?) the elephant did lift the stake out of the ground. Instant freedom! Long longed for dreams suddenly becoming realizable possibilities! Back to the herd! Or revenge on the puny humans! Or set up her own circus (ok, maybe not that one…)

Freedom however brings its own problems.

The problem of choice. With true freedom the number of options is limitless.
Which one to go for? What is the best possible thing to do? What if you make a wrong choice?

“Freedom isn’t the ability to do whatever you want, it’s the willingness to do whatever you want.” Seth Godin
The problem of responsibility. With true freedom you have only yourself to point to. When things are going well, but also when they don’t work out. There is no longer a chain-and-stake to blame for what you do (or more importantly, don’t) do. There is no boss, spouse or other person to absolve you from the mistakes you make.

In my latest blog post I wrote something about options, projects that I might consider. And in that post there is hesitation, fear. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of taking responsibility. Fear of freedom.

I’m slowly coming to terms with the idea of the the chain and stake being gone. I’m going to stand around a bit longer, then take a few tentative steps. Perhaps walk around the block the day after tomorrow. It’ll take time, getting used to. But I do think that at some point I’ll start my own circus…


Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

If you enjoyed this (or another) post, if you have something to add or to ask, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a comment!

May 192015
 

For a while I’ve been thinking about “What do I want to do?”.

Building a house in the form of a question mark actually seems like quite a cool thing to do!

Building a house in the form of a question mark actually seems like quite a cool thing to do!

What I do is help large financial organizations build and use risk models. But is that what I want to do?

I don’t dislike the work I do. It’s intellectually stimulating, I get to work with nice people (this is certainly true in my current assignment), it makes a very decent amount of money.

But are those things enough? It feels like something is missing…

So when I found out that one of my favorite non-fiction authors, Seth Godin, was doing an online course on freelancing, I signed up.

Part of the course is “homework”, the first set of which was to answer a bunch of questions, which you are suggested to do “in public”. Which I get; doing something in the open makes it more clear in your own head, it creates momentum, it makes you accountable. The questions were:

  • What do you want to do? (Not your job, but your work, now, tomorrow and in the future)
  • Who do you want to change? How do you want to change them?
  • How much risk? from 1 [a little] to 10 [bet everything]), how much are you willing to put at stake to make the change you seek?
  • How much work are you willing to do? Be specific about the trade-offs
  • Does this project matter enough for the risk and the effort you’re putting into it?
  • Is it possible – has anyone with your resources ever pulled off anything like this?

So here goes:

What do you want to do? (Not your job, but your work, now, tomorrow and in the future)

I haven’t posted anything for quite a while. That’s not because I didn’t want to or couldn’t be bothered to make the time. It’s because my website got hacked (if you logged in using a mobile phone you might have been confronted with some well-endowed and scarcely clad ladies…) and the kind people at my provider asked me not to change anything until they got it fixed… It was a simple “redirect” so nobody who visited this site was at risk!
This is the question it started out with, so if I could answer this, it would be much easier. That’s not entirely true though, I have some fairly good ideas on what I would want. It’s just that those things are quite different from what I’m good at. Or better, what I’m experienced at and what people will (most certainly) pay me for.

What I want to do is to create something that will delight and inspire people.

There are different “mediums” I can imagine this in:

  • Written word: I love to write (hence this blog). This could be a story or a book. It doesn’t specifically have to be fiction, I enjoy writing non-fiction as well. Delighting would perhaps be more difficult? Or not?
  • Code: I enjoy programming. But again, how to delight and inspire using this? A (computer) game might do that?
  • Teaching / speaking: With eager students, I like being in front of a classroom. This could certainly inspire and perhaps even delight. But what do I have to tell that others want to hear?
  • Making the above more concrete:

  • A course in building and using risk models. This would entail writing and teaching and I can certainly imagine the writing (and perhaps teaching) to involve programming as well. If done well it might delight and even inspire, though most certainly not to earth-shattering proportions (is that the level to go for?)
  • Create a game. This would be less writing and teaching, but it would certainly be programming and it would feel more “creative” than the previous option.
  • Write stories / a book. I’ve been working on a book for a long time (even though I haven’t actually done anything about it for well over a year now). Certainly writing, certainly creative. It might delight and inspire, if done well.

Not a full answer, but perhaps the beginning of one.

Who do you want to change? How do you want to change them?
I want to change people.

That seems fairly obvious, but for me it makes sense, because in my current work I change (big, soul-less) corporations. Or I change numbers. And yes, there are some people who are happy with what I do, but they’re hardly delighted or inspired.

As this is something I want to pour my passion into, I would want to do it for people who are also passionate. So the most general answer is “people like me”? Be they quantitative risk managers, people who read books or gamers.

Again, not a full answer, but for now I’ll leave it at this.

How much risk? from 1 [a little] to 10 [bet everything]), how much are you willing to put at stake to make the change you seek?
At this point I feel I am comfortable with a fair amount of risk. I’ve got money set aside for rough times. I also believe that if it doesn’t work out (within a reasonable amount of time) it would be possible to “go back” to what I had been doing before. I don’t want to bet the farm, but I’ll wager the stables.

That would be about an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10?

How much work are you willing to do? Be specific about the trade-offs
I regularly comment that I’m lazy and I’m very glad to work less than the “standard” 40 hours per week. On the other hand, when I’m passionate about something I’ll happily go all out.

And perhaps that is my current issue, not being passionate?

In the short term (until the end of the year) I’m “stuck” in the assignment I’m on (I could back out of it if I really needed to, but I wouldn’t feel good about coming back on my word). And even if I’m passionate, I do want to have a normal life, so doing a whole lot more on top of that is not something I would choose. Then again, I do work less than full time, so I could use the difference to get the ball rolling?

Does this project matter enough for the risk and the effort you’re putting into it?

Tips, ideas and suggestions based on this post are more than welcome!
I don’t really have a project yet. But I’ve got ideas. Especially while I’m still working “normally”, the risk would be minimal and the effort over-seeable.

It’s after my current assignment ends and I need to make a choice where things get more difficult (scary!). But let’s burn that bridge when we get to it?

Is it possible – has anyone with your resources ever pulled off anything like this?
Yes, most certainly!


Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

If you enjoyed this (or another) post, if you have something to add or to ask, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a comment!

Apr 282015
 

Before the invention of the supermarket, food had to be hunted down or found. The equivalent of a comfortable 3 bedroom flat was the drafty (yet sturdy!) cave (to be shared with the entire clan; body heat does wonders to warm up a few cubic meters of bare stone…). And while buses and obesity claim lives in modern society, they aren’t half as bad as those pesky sabre tooth tigers used to be.

Now, if this doesn't say: "I have too many pieces of metal", then I don't know what does!

Now, if this doesn’t say: “I have too many pieces of metal”, then I don’t know what does!

Life was tough. Though for some it was tougher than for others.

Because it’s a rotten job, but someone’s gotta be the chief, the big kahuna, the man (m/f of course). And because it’s hard work being responsible for the well-being of the entire group, there were some perks: The juiciest bit of mammoth, first pick among the eligible young virgins (m/f), the least stony bit of cave to sleep on. You get the picture.

Of course a good chief needs a trusted right hand. And perhaps a left hand too. Both of whom need their own lieutenants (or captains. I’m not that well-versed in stone-age military jargon). And though the juiciest bit of mammoth might be spoken for, there certainly is a second-most succulent piece that will go to the second in command.

In short, your 10.000 BC bunch of humans has a hierarchy. And being at the top of it makes a difference. Because mammoths might be plenty, killing one isn’t easy and hunger is a patient hunter. Having had the best piece of meat might just be enough to keep it at bay while someone a bit further down dies an empty-bellied death.

Sometimes I think life was so much easier when a gentleman’s club had nothing to do with scarcely clad women and everything with a sturdy piece of wood. But then I remember sabre tooth tigers…
So, having a higher status means a higher chance of survival. Let that simmer for a few generations and evolution will create a very strong drive for people to strive for as much status as they can possibly get their (grimy) hands on.

Now fast forward a few millennia, to a time when supermarkets have been invented and people generally don’t die prematurely (as long as they look left and right before crossing the street).

Status is no longer a life-and-death matter. Unfortunately, a few thousand years of evolution isn’t undone just because circumstances change (doubly so since people don’t actually die that much before having children). It might no longer be useful, but we’re stuck with this status thing.

And back in the day when we thought that fire was the epitome of civilization, status was easy. You knew everybody in the tribe, so you knew who the boss was and who the doormat (metaphorically of course. Caves don’t have doors, let alone doormats.).

In modern times it’s a whole lot harder. We live in a city surrounded by a thousandfold more strangers than acquaintances. And even with our friends we only have a passing familiarity. We might spend an evening together drinking, but we certainly won’t live, work and sleep together 24/7. So, how do you figure out who is on top and who is on the bottom?

Luckily we found a way around that.

Because the invention of the supermarket was a great thing, but it quickly became clear that it took really a lot of bartering, which wasn’t particularly efficient. Instead of direct trade, some smart soul convinced everybody else that you could instead trade everything for pieces of shiny metal, which could then be traded on when the time was ripe for it.

As an aside, those pieces of metal could be used quite well to keep score in the status game. The person with the most wins! Walking around with lots of pieces of shiny metal however is heavy and it invites thieves to take away some of your hard-earned status.

The next best thing is to imply that you have lots of these pieces. This is done by giving away lots of them in trade for things that you don’t really need: “Look! I have so many pieces of metal that I can waste really a lot of them to get this completely impractical gas-guzzling sports-car! I wouldn’t do that unless I had even more, now would I?”

So, next time you find yourself eyeing that latest smart-phone or your 47th-pair-of-shoes-to-be, realize it’s not particularly the piece of metal-and-plastic or dead cow that you’re longing for. It is evolutionary-assumed bit of security the implied status of your purchase brings.

Happy shopping!


Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

If you enjoyed this (or another) post, if you have something to add or to ask, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a comment!

Apr 262015
 

A bit under two months ago I started an experiment of no-mindlessly-watching-series-off-the-internet. And then less than a month after that I turned that into a full internet-diet.

First we disconnect this, then we use a pair of scissors on the rest...

First we disconnect this, then we use a pair of scissors on the rest…

Time to see what happened!

Not watching series at all turned out to be very hard, but cutting back drastically was quite doable. I found that especially during dinner (alone) I craved the distraction and a few times I gave in to it. But, no more evenings filled with binge-watching an entire season in one go. So, score! This actually seems like a very reasonable way of watching series, so let’s keep it up.

Then I tried to cut back on my internet time as a whole by taking a number of steps.

Deleting games from my laptop and phone was easy and I haven’t missed them since. I sometimes get a bit of a craving when I read about a really cool new game. Luckily neither my laptop or phone can handle the latest bits of hardware-ravaging software. And perhaps I should stop reading reviews of games? Ignorance is bliss!

Deleting and moving less productive apps didn’t have that much of an impact I feel, but I never really did use them that much anyway. An easy small win, no need to reverse that one.

Setting Gmail on my phone to “manual updates only” worked wonders. It took some work and many times I caught myself having the app open, but then going through that one more (unfamiliar!) motion of syncing stopped me from actually being able to read my new mail. I actually stopped checking my mail altogether except when I really needed it. One interruption, no matter how simple, seems to be enough?

One thing on this though. Lately I’ve been looking into new assignments and that means e-mailing, which sometimes needs to be done now rather than later. So, the “urge” to check has been creeping in again and I’m getting at least a little bit used to simply syncing. How quickly we learn! Still, I’m hoping that I can nip this one in the bud again.

The only thing stumping me is Whatsapp. It’s on my phone, it really is useful, but I do have a tendency to check often, which is certainly not necessary. I wish there was something similar to an internet blocker for my phone (will look into that (on the internet of course! :-) )). Whatsapp is quick luckily, so it doesn’t actually take up that much time.
Finally, I installed an internet blocker on my laptop, which forces me to set a certain time frame in which I can use it, before it shuts the internet down. Yes, it’s irritating at times, but it works like magic! Again, a single, simple interruption is enough to really make me think about whether I really need to be on the internet or not.

At times I’ve switched it to “just turn on”, but I’ve found that then it’s quite hard to take the action to switch it off again. Sometimes for work I needed internet for longer periods and then it seemed like so much more useful to do that. But maybe re-connecting once every hour (the longest period possible outside of “forever”) isn’t so bad either. A bit more experimentation is needed.

The result of all of the above is a gain in time. That time I’ve mostly used to read and sleep, but also to make myself a bit more fancy dinners. I had been hoping I would write, but it seems just having the time isn’t enough (I already sortof knew that actually…).

In all I’m declaring this experiment a success and something to continue with!


Bastiaan ReininkI’m Bastiaan. This blog is meant to give you some insight into the things I run into and perhaps to inspire you to go in search of your own life extraordinaire.

If you enjoyed this (or another) post, if you have something to add or to ask, I would really appreciate it if you would leave a comment!