On the value of failure…

“There are two kinds of failure. The first comes from never trying out your ideas because you are afraid, or because you are waiting for the perfect time. This kind of failure you can never learn from, and such timidity will destroy you. The second kind comes from a bold and venturesome spirit. If you fail in this way, the hit that you take to your reputation is greatly outweighed by what you learn. Repeated failure will toughen your spirit and show you with absolute clarity how things must be done.”

~ Greene, Robert, Mastery (2012)

Or, put more figuratively…

“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”

~ Capote, Truman, Self-Portrait (1972) in The Dogs Bark: Public People and Private Places (1974)

Morning Reading

A daily ritual that I have observed for several years now is to begin each day by reading from selected philosophical and theological texts. Last year, alongside revisiting the Stoics, I managed to give myself a grounding in Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. I supplemented these with some early Christian monasticism and the maxims of the 17th Century philosopher Baltasar Gracián.1

  1. Aurelius, Marcus: Meditations (r2)
  2. Confucius: The Analects
  3. Epictetus: Discourses and Selected Writings (r)
  4. Gracián, Baltasar: The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence
  5. Mascaro, Juan: The Dhammapada
  6. Seneca: Letters from a Stoic (r)
  7. Tzu, Lao: Tao Te Ching
  8. Walker, Brian Browne: Hua Hu Ching: The Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu
  9. Ward, Benedicta: The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks

I have begun 2021 with fewer texts, covering a wider range of subjects and ideas. Alongside Aurelius and Seneca, I am going to re-read specific sections of the bible; take a broader look at Western philosophy3; and also read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing‘ which has been sitting unread in my Kindle Library for over a year. Not a philosophical text per se, but one that I hope will go some way to helping me achieve one of my goals for 2021.

  1. Aurelius, Marcus: Meditations (r)
  2. The Bible (NSV)
    • New Testament:
      • The Epistles of Paul
      • James’ Epistle
    • Old Testament:
      • Psalms
      • Proverbs
  3. King, Stephen: On Writing
  4. Russell, Bertrand: History of Western Philosophy
  5. Seneca: Dialogues and Essays
  1. Hat tip to Doug Belshaw for that one.[]
  2. (r) Indicates ‘re-reading’.[]
  3. I feel that I have a firm understanding of Stoicism. And from sixteen years of teaching A-Level Literature and Media Studies, a sound understanding of more modern philosophies, particularly romanticism, modernism and post-modernism. My knowledge of various religions is good and I have a reasonable grounding in Eastern philosophies and theology but there are significant gaps in my understanding of Western philosophy. I hope that Bertrand Russell’s much lauded (and criticised) book can help begin to plug those gaps.[]

Less, More & None (2021)

Less

  • allowing my task list to build up1
  • looking at my mobile phone when people are talking to me
  • reading doomscrolling the news2

More

  • exercise
  • reading3
  • saving money
  • seeking opportunities for personal growth
  • writing

None

  • making excuses when it comes to exercise4
  • skipping my ‘morning reading'5
  1. Do, defer, delegate or delete.[]
  2. Once per day is more than enough[]
  3. After reading 41 books in 2020, I want to challenge myself to read 50 in 2021.[]
  4. I will get outside and run even if it is icy cold or teeming down with rain. And if I really can’t get outside to run then I will work out at home. There are no excuses. There is always enough time, enough ways to keep to fit, and enough tools (apps/videos/guides) to be able to exercise every day.[]
  5. One of my daily rituals is to read from a selection of philosophical and theological texts. It helps focus my mind at the start of the day.[]

Less, More and None (2020) – Review

Less

  • (cont.) spending time on ‘urgent but unimportant’ tasks
    • I did a much better job of this in 2020. I was able to be more strategic and to delegate tasks more willingly. Something I have always struggled with.
  • tinkering with apps and organisational tools (I need to pick a system and stick to it)
    • I broke this down into three areas (notes/schedule/projects) and settled on one app to manage each of them:
      • Drafts for writing: ideas, notes, lists, blog posts and reference material.
      • Fantastical to organise my day: lessons, meetings, calls and events.
      • OmniFocus for task and project management.
    • I also made some changes to my daily and weekly reviews that kept me better organised.
  • avoiding difficult / time-consuming tasks
    • I did well with this as well, in part due to the improvements I made to my organisation as noted above. In particular, I started using the ‘forecast tag’ in OmniFocus for these tasks and also scheduled time in my calendar for when I would work on them. This meant that they were always visible and would not be missed in my daily review. Scheduling time in my calendar meant that progress was made on them each day until they were done. Incremental progress FTW!

More

  • trying new foods and recipes
    • Jennifer and I are always exploring new recipes but we did even better this year building a wide range of new meals into each month. And like 2019, we struck a healthy balance between meat-based dishes and vegetarian ones.
  • rediscovering old music
    • I immersed myself in Jazz, exploring a wide range of styles (hard-bop, modal, avant-garde…) and musicians. I improved my knowledge of the genre’s development and discovered a number pieces that entered into regular rotation. My top three tunes for the year are:
    • Having spent a lot of time over the years listening to the more avant-garde and challenging work of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, I was surprised to see how much I leaned toward smooth and modal Jazz over the course of the year. Red Garland, Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner (all pianists) featured prominently. Maybe I am mellowing out!?
    • In addition to this, I also revisited a lot of music from my youth (80s/90s). According to Spotify, my most listened to artists this year were: Queen, Radiohead and Nick Cave.
    • I spent some time listening to classical music too; mostly Beethoven, Chopin, and Fauré, so the piano featured prominently there as well. Maybe I should learn to play the piano in 2021?
    • I made a number of new playlists in Spotify and updated some of my existing ones. They can all be found via my Spotify profile.
  • visiting new places
    • This did not happen for obvious reasons. Instead we made the most of our local area while doing all that we could to keep ourselves and other safe. The time spent here at home was not wasted though, I read more books than I have done in a long time.
  • mobility exercises and yoga
    • I failed miserably with this one unfortunately, and I haven’t done as well with my running over the last three months of the year either. Exercise has to be a habit and requires commitment. I will be re-committing to this in 2021 and ensuring that I can forge good habits to get back on track.
  • (cont.) writing
    • In terms of writing, I never truly found my mojo. That said, I did publish 24 full blog posts (20 more than 2019 ). Two blog posts per month is not what I was aiming for at the start of the year. As with exercise, writing has to become a habit. I will be committing to working towards this in 2021 as well.

None

  • (cont.) looking at my mobile phone when people are talking to me (still trying to make this stick!)
    • I finally made some headway with this in 2020. I took to leaving my phone on the coffee table or even in a different room and this helped. Still, I can do even better so this item will graduate to the ‘Less’ section for 2021.
  • saying yes to projects or ideas that will only have short-term or limited impact (aiming for a year of quality not quantity)
    • When faced with a pandemic, partial school closures and a constantly changing set of guidelines and rules, it has been hard not to have to work on projects that were about ‘short-term’ impact. Sometimes you simply have to adapt to the needs in front of you and I feel that alongside my colleagues, I did a good job in helping to keep the school going under very challenging circumstances.

Less, More and None (2020)

A shorter, more focussed list for 2020…

Less

  • (cont.) spending time on ‘urgent but unimportant’ tasks
  • tinkering with apps and organisational tools (I need to pick a system and stick to it)
  • avoiding difficult / time-consuming tasks

More

  • trying new foods and recipes
  • rediscovering old music
  • visiting new places
  • mobility exercises and yoga
  • (cont.) writing

None

  • (cont.) looking at my mobile phone when people are talking to me (still trying to make this stick!)
  • saying yes to projects or ideas that will only have short-term or limited impact (aiming for a year of quality not quantity)