Tag Archives: evolution

Of Circumstance and Action

In the New Year’s Eve reflection I posted last night, there are a few lines that say more about my year than anything else I wrote:

All of that [skill, experience, enthusiasm, potential, will, and grit] I had, but it wasn’t enough to move me forward. Outside of the umbrella of my former university, I was restricted… When the low-grade stress became a scream and I thought I was exhausted, I conferred with a lawyer and started the process of applying for permanent residency independently… [Now] I’m meeting a new year with the ability to move.

A cartoon person on a rocket wooshes across the top of the image. At the bottom, is a period labeled "The Point."

Sometimes our assumptions and premises lead us to miss the point.

Yet I’d always had the ability to move. This ability changed my year, but it wasn’t magically bestowed on me just in time to deflect a crash. I’d always been able to think new thoughts, see new options, test alternatives, fail, and test something different. But I’d allowed my context to overrule my powers of attention and persistence. Over several months, I beat myself against the rock of Circumstance, and so I suffered. But when I started acting so as to shape Circumstance, the restrictions I’d experienced shifted. Not immediately and not all at once, but not a moment before.

Looking back, I’m glad I experienced this, because now I know what doesn’t work.

Throwing oneself at Circumstance but not identifying actions that could shift Circumstance—that doesn’t work.

It’s not that the external restrictions I faced last year weren’t real. They were very legal and very real. But the internal restrictions I faced? Those were unnecessary troubles, and for the months I let them lead me, they limited the options I saw and judged feasible.

Where I Erred

Trained to listen respectfully to authority figures, I took it for granted that they knew what they were talking about. But instead of speaking about me and my case, some spoke about averages—I’m not average—and others spoke from fears and worries that I don’t live by. Not everyone has the expertise to evaluate my experience or potential or risk load, and no one can be as invested in my continued progress as I am. The rules and cautions they offered weren’t about me or for me, but when I accepted them as though they were, I earned the limited perspective that resulted.

At the same time, I was inconsistent about focusing on the future I knew I wanted and taking small, steady steps toward it. I was tempted, every so often, to appease my uncertainty,  to drop my goals and do what others deemed more responsible, or to seat my projects at the kids’ table while I gave over my prime energy to the visions of others. And I was impatient with everything, especially with myself.

Beginning Again

One of my new friends uses the phrase “Begin Again” as a touchstone. I love this phrase!

Photo: In the foreground, a rocky desert landscape with sparse brush; in the background, a pale blue-white morning sky.

Climb the mountain ahead—one step at a time. Image (c) K. McKenzie

In learning the wisdom of the turtle I’m gaining a lot of experiences to retrain the impatience in my blood. My relocation last decade swung me into high, productive activity within the first 3 weeks, but this decade’s relocation is about building deliberately without an institutional safety net. I still have resources and support, but some of the logic and tools I need this time are different than those I used before.

Last week, I read the 1902 pamphlet As a Man Thinketh by James Allen for the first time. I’ve seen it referenced in several books over the years and it’s a classic in more than age: it represents the spirit of its milieu, the US and Europe pre-Titanic and pre-World War I. Those were years in which popular writers and preachers were equally convinced of the power of mind and thought, the science and surety of human progress, and the role of optimism and innovative action in individual and social development. Out of this milieu came Ernest Holmes and the Science of Mind tradition; its contemporary progeny includes a whole swathe of motivational presenters, “life coaches,” and the new trends in “life design.”

During that same period, my denomination emerged as a contrarian voice. As Malcolm Bull and Keith Lockhart argue in Seeking a Sanctuary: Seventh-day Adventism and the American Dream, the SDA tradition countered the spirit of the age with fatalism about human nature and teachings about impending international calamity, not hope for salvation through science and will. With the unmitigated disasters of the 20th Century’s first three decades, Adventist fatalism seemed justified, and its suspicion of progress persists today.

Despite that backdrop, I feel fortunate to have been exposed to some of the mind-thought-goal-action writing men of the late 20th Century, from Norman Vincent Peale and Earl Nightingale to Og Mandino, Zig Ziglar, and Robert Schuller. My mother, who sold encyclopedias and other books when I was small, absorbed the developmental teachings of these writers to help her sell. She also encouraged my siblings and I to reflect on them on our own. I’ll never be a clone of these men and haven’t always applied their approaches, but I looking forward to rediscovering them and testing their validity for myself this year.

And You?

  • Did you join the resolution crowd this morning with a vague intention, or have you set specific and measurable goals for yourself?
  • Have you already figured the actions you need to take to make your goals happen? Who around you is on board with your plan? Check the quality of your social network to minimize peer resistance once you get started.
  • Will success depend on you “hanging in there” with gritted teeth? Or is there a vision that you can return to and be motivated by when the work gets intense?
  • Plan for a little forward motion every day, your stretch target just ahead to help draw you forward at a sustainable pace. Stay in motion. 
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Moving forward

Photograph: A low sunset on December 31, 2013. The sky is light blue with a tinge of orange-red on the horizon. In the lower half of the photo is part of a yard; it is very dark and in shadow.

This was part of the last sunset of 2013.

My Australian friends have been enjoying 2014 for almost a day now, but I still have a few hours to wait, work, and reflect.

This Site

I started mackenzian.com last January as a space for writing, exploring ideas, and connecting with others, and also as an archive for my book reviews, publications, and ongoing research. Nearly 150 posts later, I’m pleased with what the site has grown into and am grateful for all of you who’ve joined me in learning through the year.

In 2014, the site will grow some more. I’m in the process of moving the website to an independent host, and as I move, edit, expand, and upgrade over the next quarter, you might notice a few technical issues. Please bear with me and let me know if you catch broken links or anything else that disrupts your experience; it’ll be running smoothly again soon.

Health and Wellness

Last January some of my former grad school colleagues invited me to join what we called The 20/50 Club. Our über-target: to complete 20 hours of exercise and 50 hours of writing per month. This site and #NaNoWriMo kept me moving on the writing goal, but I wasn’t so sure about the exercise.

PHD Comics cartoon of a graph titled "Amount of exercise I get over the year." Graph lines decline between January and summer break, and decline again through the fall semester and ends at zero.

This chart does not match my success with exercise this year! (c) Jorge Chan 2013

Recovering from 8 years of study but determined to regain some fitness as well, I struggled to find my rhythm. Then, in February, I settled on an experiment: 20 minutes of non-stop cardio every day for 21 days—just to see if I could cycle non-stop at speed for 20 minutes and maintain a positive habit for 3 weeks without exception. I ended the experiment victoriously on my birthday, and when that cycle ended, I rebooted it.

From then on, I allowed for the occasional travel day and rode on Sabbaths if I’d missed a session during the week. By April I varied the cardio routine to keep myself guessing, mixed levels of difficulty, and blended rolling programs with intervals. I increased each session to 25 minutes in September; by October, I was up to 30 minutes; and this month I increased it for the final time to 32 minutes. I won’t extend the cardio session from here on: I’ve rediscovered calisthenics and now complete a bodyweight routine on alternate days. I may reintroduce interval programming in 2014 and I’ve added the app MyFitnessPal to help me monitor my diet.

My end-of-year cardio total (February 26-December 31): 1,227 miles and 31,779 calories. And my blood pressure is back to its pre-US ranges.

I’m happy with these results.

Settling In…

With a STEM grant for a local public school system, five figures in fundraising for a social non-profit, team leadership on a state organizational assessment project, and starting over half a continent away from my old home in Texas, I accomplished a lot this year. I’ve made some new friends, attracted new clients, and weathered local DMVs twice for a driving license. But this year’s greatest stressor was the United States immigration system.

It’s almost impossible for even my most empathetic citizen friends to understand what that last sentence means.

Since arriving for my first graduate degree last decade, I gained work and stay authorization through my institution. I was then a student and university employee, and was granted short-term visas to complete my studies. Once I graduated, I lost that institutional coverage.

My move away from my university town was a move that hundreds of thousands of domestic graduates do each May, August, and December every single year. Since I moved in May 2012, five cohorts of graduates have done the same. These graduates might face challenges resettling somewhere new, or re-acclimating if they’ve gone back home. They might take with them skills, experience, and enthusiasm. They might have years of potential, tons of will, mountains of grit.

All of that I had, but it wasn’t enough to move me forward. Outside of the umbrella of my former university, I was restricted. I couldn’t apply for positions I was fitted for. Area institutions had citizenship or status hiring limitations that froze me out. I kept up with changing laws for people in my category, went independent, and developed professional, contributing relationships doing valued work (sometimes for pay, sometimes for free).

Yet I underestimated how much instability and indeterminacy would come from working through my post-grad year without a clear way to new authorization, or how much it would wear on me to watch my 1-year authorization tick-tock away.

When my mother called, she regaled me with descriptions of her latest Jamaican meal: the fresh fruit, Grandpa’s pineapple and oranges, the greens and root vegetables from the yard, my favorite starch ever—roasted breadfruit—and the other morsels that make my mouth water as I type.

She would tease me with her food, and then she would say, “Everyone… everyone sends their love. When are you coming home?”

There was never a satisfactory answer. I’d just started to build my life here, set up a work and reading space, connect with a local church. I’ve been out of Jamaica for 9 years and away from the UK for 16 years—I’ve been a UK expat for longer than I lived there. Until I was able to transform my immigration status, I’d have no travel permit: even if it had been the best of times, and it wasn’t, there was no way I could visit relatives abroad and still hope to return to my life.

There were times when I considered leaving the country. These thoughts usually came late at night, when everyone else was asleep and the frustration crept over me, when I struggled to invoke the reality I wanted rather than the nightmare I feared; those were low times. When the low-grade stress became a scream and I thought I was exhausted, I conferred with a lawyer and started the process of applying for permanent residency independently.

I won’t tell you that that’s when the stress lifted and the exhaustion faded away. Because that wouldn’t be true. There were 5 more months of indeterminacy, and sometimes when I look back, I can’t believe that I didn’t come down with some stress-triggered illness.

It was my friends, mentors, and allies who kept me standing this year. Incredible combined effort from me, my family, our legal advisors, and my current and former colleagues, and we eventually met with success.

I’m a US permanent resident now. I have no restrictions. I’m adjusting to that liberty to imagine that my domestic peers have always had and perhaps never knew the price or value of.

I’m meeting a new year with the ability to move.

…And Moving Forward

About three weeks ago I looked ahead at the new year and realized that I didn’t want to wait until tonight to regain my momentum. So I’ve been spending quiet time and most of my post-holidays afternoons with the Star Trek movies (but of course), some sketch paper, and colored fine-tipped Sharpies refining my goals and drawing out my next few steps. I’ll be able to share some of those next quarter.

In 2014, I want to move forward. I will move forward. And I look forward to hearing from you all through the year as we step deliberately into our futures together.


A little year-end/new year perspective via Carl Sagan and student animator Adam Winnick. Happy 2014, all of you! 

Live well, learn well, and love well here, on our Pale Blue Dot.

Thanks, Twitter (2013 ed.)—Part 2

This is the second of three Twitter-compilation posts for 2013 (Part 1: Seeing the Real | Part 3: Changing the World).
Evolving Deliberately includes tweets on growing up, self-evaluating, improving, and moving beyond one’s personal status quo.

2. Evolving Deliberately

The gears of poverty, ignorance, hopelessness, and low self-esteem mesh to create a kind of perpetual failure machine that grinds down dreams from generation to generation. We all bear the cost of keeping it running. Illiteracy is its linchpin. Even if we hardened our hearts to the shame and misery experienced by the victims, the cost of illiteracy to everyone else is severe—the cost in medical expenses and hospitalization, the cost in crime and prisons, the cost in special education, the cost in lost productivity and in potentially brilliant minds who could help solve the dilemmas besetting us.

Frederick Douglass taught that literacy is the path from slavery to freedom. There are many kinds of slavery and many kinds of freedom. But reading is still the path.—Carl Sagan, The Demon-haunted World

Teen Self and Adult Self

@mslooola: Question: what would teen you think of adult you? #noshamemovThis morning @mslooola asked: “What would teen you think of adult you?”#noshamemov

So I found Teen Self and we had a chat.

Teen Self: You locked our hair!
Adult Self: Yeah, I like it. Might cut it in a decade or two; what you think?
Teen Self: O_O

Teen Self: You stopped playing basketball. Do you miss it?
Adult Self: I do, but weight training’s not bad; you should try it. Also, get a bike.

Teen Self: You’re a little bit “different,” y’know.
Adult Self: So are you! It’s how your people will find you.

Teen Self: Anything you think I should know?
Adult Self: You’ll learn things that are nice to know by watching people. You’ll learn what you need to know by experience. Everyone around you is doing their best; judge less. You’re not alone in the world even though it sometimes seems like you are. I love you.

In Search of My Mother’s Garden — Walker

From Robin Carnes and Sally Craig’s book Sacred Circles:

“In search of my mother’s garden, I found my own.” —Alice Walker

“We might look at our mothers as our first mirrors of ourselves. What they reflected back to us about ourselves we often took as the truth. When we begin to see our mothers as real people, not just as parents, who are struggling as imperfectly as the rest of us to make the journey, we see that what they mirrored back to us about ourselves as children was probably not about us at all but rather about who they were at that time. Talking about our mothers and how we feel about the people they were and are helps us to differentiate ourselves from them, even as we honor our connection with them.” (pp. 138-139)

Differentiating and connecting are both essential and complementary aspects of healthy relationship. Too little differentiation leads to enmeshment; too little connection leads to isolation. Too much differentiation produces distancing; too much connection undermines boundaries.

The metaphor I’ve often used for my own path with and around other people is planetary or stellar orbit: I travel an orbit myself, I have regular companions and am the regular companion of others. I cross orbits with others; I approach more closely at some times and more distantly at others. I attract some and am attracted by some. On rare occasions I crash into other travelers or am hit by one—but I still have my orbit to travel.

Our relationships are similar: partners, friends, siblings, parents, neighbors, coworkers, peer commuters, the panhandlers we pass each day, the accountants we see twice a year, our doctors and consultants, our religious teachers, and on, almost infinitely… Each of us has an orbit to travel. Each of us negotiates our connection and differentiation patterns with the people we meet and know. And both processes are necessary.

This is one of the insights that I processed over several years; it helped me to make sense of my relationships with other individuals but also helped me to understand and shift my relationships with the institutions I’m a part of.

If you missed this week’s series on sexuality and the Seventh-day Adventist church, I’ll be keeping the three installments up on this site:

Part I: The Magic of Shame (6/3)
Part II: Caring for our Mother (6/5)
Part III: Filling in the Gaps (6/7)