Between Scottish water and kilted yoga, the sense of pride the Scots have in their country is wholly foreign to this American.
Kilted Yoga. I spotted this among the gift shop items at the great Riverside Museum in Glasgow, one of millions of examples of Scottish culture that is frequently parodied and exploited, by the Scots as much as anyone else, almost always in good fun and always with a strong undercurrent of pride.
See, the Scots are a fiercely proud people, and that’s understating it. They take pride in everything that they do. From their land, food, and water, to their sports, raising cows and even their yoga practice. I experienced this strong sense of pride from the beginning of my visits here, and coming from America, this all seemed a bit much (does Scottish water really make that tea taste better?), but none-the-less I find it endearing and more than that, I sense there is something a bit deeper to be explored.
Since moving here it’s evident that beyond the kitsch touristy stuff, the Scottish people take a lot of pride in the quality of what they do. People are really into their chosen craft, they invest in deeply in their relationships with their co-workers and friends, and they draw a strength from their history (and their antagonistic weather) in a way that’s wholly new to me. You could argue that the taste or aesthetics of what the Scots do could be better (Irn-Bru?), but it’s tough to argue any lack of quality and craftsmanship.
Prior to moving here I didn’t think of myself as having such a strong sense of investment in my home country, let alone have it be a major source of pride from which I can draw strength from. Perhaps it is because the US is so big, or that I’m being ungrateful to my country’s history, or perhaps it’s just that I’m wired differently as an American, a product of my specific time and place. Regardless, I’m loving the glow of small-country pride in Scotland. It is infectious and energizing and, with the exception of kilted yoga, I’m looking forward to participating in it more.
In between the constant doing-stuff/busy-ness of moving there have been many glimpses of why we came here and what awaits us when we pause and look around. Isn’t that the point?
The family and I are in full acquisition mode at the moment. As expected, setting up shop in Scotland has required endless amounts of admin and purchasing and “getting things done”. We are very much trying to keep things small and simple, but there are myriad things that a family of four needs and we’re knocking those off one-by-one in (what seems to me to be) short order. In under two weeks we’ve added a rental house, car and insurance, beds, kitchen table, couch, desk, bikes, new phone numbers, and millions of other tiny things to our list of possessions here. Oh and we’ve probably added a few pounds from stress eating while chasing two little ones down the aisles of you-name-it shop. At times it’s been a grind (example: four hours on the phone trying to get car insurance with no credit history), and there are times where I’ve periodically lost sight of why we moved over in the first place.
I spotted this while in Ikea yesterday and it has stuck with me. Although it feels like we’re doing stuff to get to an end goal (finally being able to sleep in our new place!), that will be another beginning.
In between the constant doing-stuff/busy-ness of moving there have been many glimpses of why we came here and what awaits us when we pause and look around, like this moment from the road to the farm where we live (the place we are renting is a house converted from a horse stable). It’s stunning.
I came across the following passage while writing this and it fits nicely to the topic. We chose to climb this mountain, and are fortunate to be able to have the means to climb it. Why not enjoy every moment?
Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow.
Learned last week: A giant of journalism, the beauty of The Alchemist, WeChat the operating system, and more.
Book excerpt I loved, very relevant to fatherhood and my parenting philosophy:
Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
Author I learned about: I had never heard of A.
A. Gill before last week, but after a recommendation I looked him up and the
collection Lines in
the Sand: Collected Journalism is on my reading list.
“The act of feeding someone,” he says as he shares a scavenged dinner in a King’s Cross homeless shelter, “is the most basic transubstantiation”, a rite central to all religions.
Such glimpses of a loftier truth are the glory of Gill’s essays, and they open metaphysical vistas in journalistic junkets or stunts contrived for the sake of a feature article. On safari in Botswana with his well-travelled twins, huddled around a sparky blaze in the bush, he hears a tribal elder call the pricks of light in the black sky “the campfires of my ancestors”. Gill takes this to mean that “Earth and heaven mirror each other, the countless generations stretching back to the first men” and extending forward, in a tiny appendix, to “me and my kids”.
Elsewhere, he tries his hand at life drawing, and while studying the nude model he’s reminded of our fumbling search for “an empathy with the human condition and the spirit that makes us sparks of the divine”. Not by chance, that image rekindles the Botswana campfire: at their finest, Gill’s essays are what he calls “votive art”, an offering of gratitude as devout as a lighted candle.
I had never read The Alchemist and was surprised and delighted to discover it: Until last week I didn’t realize I had never read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, mistaking it in my head for another book. I finally read it while on a trip last week and it was one of the most enjoyable experiences in recent memory. While my reaction is certainly due in part to big decisions and changes happening in my life right now, it is, without-a-doubt, a beautiful and moving book.
“If a person is living out his Personal Legend, he knows everything he needs to know. There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
WeChat is not a messaging app, it’s the operating system for 1 billion people: Think Facebook has a lot of power? WeChat is watching is a fascinating look at the creation of a deeply centralized ecosystem with interesting, convenient and scary implications.
Hyper-centralization makes life convenient. It also presents a worrying potential for fraud. On a typical day I’ve paid my phone bill, sent money to people, bought groceries, and even sent authorized documents to the bank, all through one app, protected by one password and kept intentionally unencrypted to comply with government data-sharing regulations.
Moreover, the data centralization that has enabled WeChat to map itself neatly onto users’ personal and commercial lives, has now created an opportunity for the government to step in and invite it into their political lives. Beyond sharing data with the government, WeChat is now rolling out a digital ID card. Every Chinese citizen is issued an ID card. It functions like a domestic passport and is needed for any interaction with the state—at hospitals, booking trains, flying domestically, or making bank transactions. In Guangzhou, the provincial government has already debuted a WeChat ID card and there are plans for it to be rolled out across the whole of China. Hijiacking WeChat in the future could grant a hacker everything from a user’s government-approved identity to his or her bank details, address, and coffee preferences.
WeChat’s role in the social-credit system (!?) that is being rolled out is pretty wild:
WeChat’s data centralization makes it a cornerstone of the government’s social-credit system that is feted to appear nationwide in 2020. Mooted in 2014 in a document entitled “Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System,” the plan is to build a system that incentivizes good behavior and punishes that deemed unconducive to the construction of a harmonious society or, as the document itself dictates, a system that will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”12 Under the pilot scheme, people with outstanding court orders or who have defaulted on loans can’t book high-speed rail tickets and can’t fly in planes.
The nationwide social credit system will be compiled by combining government records with commercial profiles. At present, Ant Financial, the finance-arm of Alibaba, China’s Internet conglomerate, has rolled out “sesame credit,” which gives people a score out of 950 based on their punctuality paying back loans, their purchase history, their social networks (having friends with high scores boosts your own score), and data shared from the government such as court-orders and fines. People with high-scores get preferential loans, can rent cars without deposits and are even guaranteed visas for countries like Luxemburg and Singapore, among other perks. China Rapid Finance, which is partnered with Tencent, is responsible for creating a similar scheme off the back of WeChat data.
Favorite quote was from Sam (as written by his teachers on a father’s day card):
“Thank you for taking me to coffee store and playing trucks!
The fear of the unknown and our crazy human brains can be stifling!
As I think about the kids, and the ‘imagined’ negative impact on them, I get a little frozen. Frozen in those negative and sad thoughts, frozen in the fear that we are going to completely F them up and that they’ll be lonely, bullied, sad, angry and won’t fit in.
Breathe. Get over those thoughts Mama!
Here’s the deal. They are going to feel those emotions regardless of this move or not. Its part of life to experience negative emotions. Right now the kids are the HAPPIEST when they are with us, and the four of us keep each other feeling stable, loved, happy and we fit in. So perhaps we just need to focus on the family unit, the love, the fun, the adventure together – so that they have that core stability and love? So moving TOGETHER and staying solid together is more impactful for kids? And that every other experience will provide them with other skills to navigate life positively in the future?
Cue negative thought. Except if one of us dies. Or worse, both of us die.
Oh then my thoughts on the kids happiness would be totally screwed.
For my next role, I should be looking at a “lateral” move, or even better, a “higher level” role. What if I did the opposite? What if I started over?
A lot of people are asking about what I’m going to do when I get over to Scotland. Where am I going to work? Am I going to continue with Microsoft? Are there opportunities with other gaming companies?
I don’t have anything lined up yet, I say. This is followed by some knowing nods and smiles. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding something is a common response. I don’t disagree, but I also don’t want to agree so easily. I feel comfortable with where I’m at professionally, and that’s my issue. The expectation of most is that I will go for the equivalent of a “lateral” move, or even better, get a “higher level” role for my next job. What if I did the opposite? What if I started over?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved art and design, and grew up learning about it through the lens of games. My interest in technology was born of game consoles, PC games, and remote control cars. How interfaces and images appeared and were arranged on a screen, and how input devices manipulated those images, was inextricably linked with how I created and what I wanted to create. I was also (and am still) a meticulously organized person, and I’ve always held tension between those often opposing forces: the creative who dives in not knowing where something will go on one side and the cartographer charting a detailed plan on the other.
The intersection of this making and organizing is where my career in tech began. Around the end of 1999, I started to notice how much visual creativity and storytelling were happening online, and I wanted to be a part of it. A friend of mine was making websites, so I joined him and suddenly I was building and (over) designing websites for academic departments at my university. I also set-up my own site (philnick.com), hosting it with a company called MediaTemple.net (solely because other web design artists were also using them). I was hooked by the combination of design and technology and freedom I had publishing on the web. Information taxonomy mixed with art! These were the days of figuring out how to bend table-based layouts to one’s will using single pixel spacers and CSS wizardry. The days of using FTP clients to publish a new version of WordPress and it’s MySQL back end. The days where Macromedia made Flash and the coolest sites had their menus and hero sections of homepages rendered with it. It was maddeningly hard to learn how to do it all and there was nothing else I wanted to do.
I’ve previously written about this time as good hard work, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s the time in my life where I felt most creative, where I had full agency to learn, create and do. I knew there was no barrier other than time to making it happen. I was solving problems though experimentation, banging my head on the wall more often than not, and I was teaching and learning with others at the university technology department, and with like minded friends. My career at Microsoft owes itself to the momentum I gained during this time.
I’ve never lost that love of creating and publishing work, and helping and supporting others use technology to create themselves. However, I’ve gotten further away from it as my career has progressed. Up until recently, It had been a long time since I was last making, designing and creating things with technology. My recent role (with Minecraft) has gotten me into making again, and non-coincidentally I’ve also jumped back into sharing my writing and illustrating online as a committed side-gig. It’s been amazing how it’s fueled all other aspects of my life and made me a better dad and a husband. The energy is flowing in the right direction, and I want it to stay that way.
“Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.”
So what do I want to do for work next? I’m not sure but I know what I don’t want to do. Instead of looking for a job that’s lateral or “higher level”, I’m looking for something that will allow me learn something new. I’d like to go back to the beginning, to actually being a beginner again and having to figure something out from scratch. I’d like to learn how to design and implement new user interfaces, bring stories to life using narrative, illustration, music and some code, or create a new way for creative collaboration and sharing. I’d like to do it both for income as well as incorporate it in projects with my kids and their education. I’d like to do it with others, in a way that’s not crazy.
I’m not sure that this will lead to in terms of my next role, salary, etc. It could certainly lead to less money. It will almost certainly lead to some raised eyebrows. I know it will lead to a lot of new learning, new connections and great experience.
Beginning again might not make sense to most, but it makes sense to me. I can only hope it’s one of many more.
Learned last week: re-learning to code is for me, places for Americans to travel, and how to make my drawings come to life.
A book excerpt I appreciated: “While mankind is very intelligent in relation to other species, we have the intelligence of moss growing on a rock compared to nature as a whole.” – from Ray Dalio’s Principles.
Some ideas on where to travel: I want to do a year travel with the kids, or perhaps living in a few different places, and reading this list gave me some ideas on how to think about it. France is definitely on the list.
A cool app for animating your own art: I’m grateful to have been turned on to the PuppetMaster app last week, and just like that we have a project for spring break this week: drawing the animated story of… (to be continued)
A great purchase that I rediscovered: I write a lot and am a fan of fountain pens (one of many rabbit holes I like to follow). I’ve collected a few pens over the past couple years, and I recently picked up my TWISBI Vac700 and remembered why it’s king: filling is easy, the extra-fine nib is superb and it’s got a heft to it that just feels right.
Yes, I am afraid of moving, but in the best way possible. Rather than being afraid of giving up what I have, I’m more fearful of missing an opportunity, that I might give up what I know I could have more of.
We are about 4 months away from being in full family transition, setting sail for Scotland from the U.S.A. There is a lot up in the air and the only thing that is certain is that this will be a moment of unmooring for us all. Many people have asked me how I feel about it. “Am I scared of moving?” they ask, “I would be.”
I’ve come to the realization that for me, it’s the exact opposite. I am afraid, but I am most afraid of not doing it. Doing it fully. I am afraid that I am not able to conquer the fears that have been both a great builder of strength and a great liability to me up to this point in my life. Rather than feel like I’m giving up what I have, I’m more fearful of missing an opportunity, that I might give up what I know I could have more of. I’m not talking about stuff, but rather, time, experiences, learning. I’m afraid of not knowing what else is out there. Afraid of succeeding. This fear of discovery and realization is new though. For most of my life, I didn’t want to do anything unsettling.
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”
Like most commonly held fears, I can trace most of mine back to childhood experience. My parents divorced when I was very young, and my sister and I went through multiple family configurations and many different schools from grade 2 through college. We moved with my Mom to a different state at one point (Washington) and spent the school year there and visited my Dad during school breaks. Of course, throughout this I felt like I had no control of my situation. I had to make new friends continuously and what I wanted most was to fit in, to have a “regular” home, and I wanted my Dad back. Being slightly overweight, short, wearing glasses and being obsessed with video games meant I was destined for my fair share of bullying and ridicule. Junior high was hard. High school was harder. Eventually, I figured it out. The lack of emotional stability at home and the desire to be part of the tribe of my peers made me very adaptable and it drew me to seek to create my own order (I’m an organizer and communicator by trade, huh!). It also made me amenable to people of all sorts, and taught me that making friendships is a lot easier if you are open minded and a good listener.
As a result of these
experiences, my life has since been defined as one seeking stability and
maintaining the status-quo. I am very lucky to have all of the comforts and
success that I have, but I can see ways that my fear of instability and of not
fitting in have held me back in my personal and professional life, and it’s
time for me to learn to set them aside.
I’m trying to shift my stance towards fear and approach decisions differently now. I want to do more things that give me that sense of fear, not less. I’m trying to not to look at the cost of my fears coming true, but rather the cost of them not coming true. Said another way, what likely opportunity (versus unlikely risk) am I missing out on by giving fear the final say in a decision?
I’ll give some
examples of fears that I’m wrestling with related to our move to Scotland this
summer, and how I’m thinking about them in an inverse way than many others in
my life seem to be.
Here are three of my
big fears with the move:
Moving to Scotland will deprive Sam and Vivian of (educational and other) opportunities
Moving to Scotland will cause my relationship to my wife to be strained
Moving to Scotland will set me back career-wise and/or financially
Note that I didn’t say they were rational fears! But, what if I looked at them differently, like this:
NOT Moving to Scotland will deprive Sam and Vivian of (educational and other) opportunities
NOT Moving to Scotland will cause my relationship to my wife to be strained
NOT Moving to Scotland will set me back career-wise and/or financially
Is there truth here? Is it just as likely, if not more, that this alternative will happen? I think so. Here is how I think about it:
Not moving will deprive Sam and Vivian of (educational and other) opportunities: I dread that Vivian and Sam will end up having awful experiences in school, either with crap teachers, school bullies, or infinite other cruelties, but that can (and will inevitably) happen anywhere. We live in a great school district in the US with all the advantages that implies, but I know that the first-hand experience with a new culture, seeing kids and people that are different than them, and building friendships from scratch will pay off more in the long run than anything they will learn in school.
Not moving to Scotland will cause my relationship to my wife to be strained: Being in a relationship is something you have to constantly do, it needs to be active and provide sustenance to both people involved. This means different things for different people, but for us, travel and new experiences are important. Following this dream generates energy that forges new bonds. Not following through with a move would keep things comfortable, perfect conditions for things to atrophy. Our relationship will surely be tested throughout this next chapter, and that’s exactly the point.
Not moving to Scotland will set me back career-wise and/or financially: I’m going to set aside the imagined/real impact of Brexit for the moment on this one. If I were to believe that I am better off to stick with what I have now, I must believe three things. The first is that I need to maintain my current salary to be happy. The second is that I can reach my full potential in what I do now. And third is that equally great opportunities (or likely even greater) don’t exist or aren’t attainable in myriad forms and places that I have yet to discover. I choose to believe none of it.
Looking at where my
fears come from, how they’ve both benefited me and held me back, and the
worst-case of them coming true vs potential upside of them not, is a practice I
hope to revisit regularly when making big decisions.
Yes, I am afraid of
moving, but in the best way possible. Fear will always be present, and I choose
to embrace it as an ally, a compass that is telling me something interesting is
happening, and look for the opportunity behind it. Try it and you might be
surprised what you see.
Exploring why and how we decided turn “someday we’ll do this” into today.
“Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.”
Benjamin Disraeli Former prime minister of the United Kingdom
In about six months we are moving our family from our home in Seattle across the ocean to Scotland. It’s a pretty big life change. That being said, I want to try to attempt to explain why we’re doing this, and, I’ll let you know right now, this explanation might be a letdown. Just when I think I have a pretty solid handle on the reasons, they turn into marbles on an uneven table. My wife Kav and I have been talking about this for awhile, but it was always a “someday we should…” conversation. Then something shifted, but I’m not quite sure how or why, it’s still kind of a mystery.
A few years ago, I would have found it unlikely to know I would be moving out of the country. I’ve always lived in the US. Although I’ve moved houses and I moved schools a bunch as a kid, I’ve really only lived in two states: Washington and Wyoming. I’ve worked at Microsoft for almost 13 years. Not only that, but I’ve been working in gaming for 6 years, and my latest assignment is with Minecraft. I am LITERALLY doing what I dreamed of doing as a kid, making video games. And now I’m saying the fact I have my dream job isn’t as important as this opportunity. This strikes me as a profound leap, and I want to know how to to re-create it, mass produce it (in pill form preferably), and do it more.
But before I fumble around explaining how I got to my yes on the decision, let me try explain why we want to to do this.
First off, we’re making the big move by choice, independent of a job offer or citizenship concerns or any other forcing factor. Both my wife and I feel strongly that it’s time for a change and we want to raise our kids closer to family (or at least a part of it). This is what we say outwardly at least. It’s definitely more complicated than that, but those are the easy reasons to explain. There are plenty more.
We’re moving so that our kids will know (some) of their family more and so that we’ll have a support network while raising our kids. We’re moving for all the new connections to people, in work and in school and in life, that we’ll all make. We’re moving so we can experience a new country and way of life, and so we can go through a big project (and the challenges we’ll face along the way) together, as a family. We’re moving because there are more guns than people in the US. We’re moving so we can have weekends away in Paris (and so I can go on excursions to Belgium for beer…shh, don’t tell Kav). We’re moving to shake things up and ensure we don’t get too comfortable. We’re moving because “we’d like to someday” could very well never happen, and it certainly won’t unless we act.
The magnitude of the shift that this will make in all of our lives cannot be understated, which is ultimately the point (and also the source of our fears).
What’s so difficult to explain, and what I’d like to articulate in some beautiful way so that others can benefit, is what pushed us over the edge to make the decision. What made us both get to the point where we like, “Yup, let’s get rid of our new house right next to a great school in one of the most beautiful places in the planet and our six figure salary and beautiful cars and stock options and crazy comfortable life and shake the dice and start over with NO STUFF doing something else that probably isn’t going to be worse and potentially could be AMAZING and maybe never come back”?
At the end of all the worries, I realized (and maybe Kav has know this all along), that the likely upside is much greater than the unlikely downside.
The decision seems obvious to me now but how’d I get to this point? Kav has already touched on her thoughts. For me, I think the factors that led me to feeling so comfortable with it come down to:
Simplifying my life and trying to reduce material needs/desires
Carefully curating the inputs I pay attention to (feeds, screen time, friends, books, etc)
Being more present with my kids and wife, and (trying to) be as intentional and tuned-in as I can in every moment
I wasn’t expecting this. Kav and I argued over her desire to move and my interpretation of her reasons, although I always knew I wanted to live in another country eventually, I didn’t think I wanted to do it this soon. Now it’s hard to imagine why I was opposed.
I’d like to think that by focusing on the seemingly small and simple things, I was receptive and open to a big decision as it came around.
At first there was a no, and then there was a yes.
Oh man, the weight of decisions as a parent can’t be underestimated. I’ve always been fairly thoughtful and composed in any big decisions, but ADDING kids to the mix adds a hefty kettle bell to my arms.
Life in America right now (apart from the utter political craziness we are part of) is pretty awesome day to day! #blessed #lucky #surreal We are probably middle class textbook – totally weird when you look in from the outside. Married, Kids (one of each), 4 bedroom home, 2 cars….. healthy, happy. So why change that?
A ton of reasons, all with different weight. And whilst there is no obvious reason to uproot, all of our personal reasons leave us with an instinctual feeling that this is the way forward for our family. And we are SO LUCKY that we are ABLE to make such a decision, and plan such a move.
So here goes our big family move from America to Scotland, where we will open new doors, new experiences, new adventures….. and lots of laughing as Nick uses his American words, and the Scottish take the piss! 🙂 Don’t worry babe, I’ve got your back (sometimes)!
*A few things the Scottish will find funny – Semi, Glasgow…..* more later in its own dedicated article!
I’m Kav. I’m 41 years old, Wife of my soulmate Nick, and Mama to our 2 beautiful kids. I was born in Trinidad, raised mostly in Scotland, and live in the greater Seattle area of the USA.
My husband loves to write. I love to think, and then occasionally blurt out a whole load of stuff in one big mass. We are about to uproot the family and move to the UK from America so finding a constructive way to put it all down, organize our thoughts well and capture all of our excitement, fears and hesitations ALONG the way MAKES SENSE.
I join my husband on this writing journey 🙂
Maybe one day, our kids will read this. And instead of being mad of us for making such big changes in their lives, they might appreciate the thought and emotion that went into our decisions.