Daily Habits Checklist (July 10th – August 7th): “But whoever has been forgiven little loves little”

If you look only at the scores, it wasn’t a great month. In particular I did poorly in the “writing” and “publishing” habits. No coincidence those habits are related, too: I can’t publish stuff I didn’t write lol

But in reality, July was a great month. Yes I perhaps spent too much time partying and traveling, which lowered the scores, but I also spent a lot more time learning to sing and play guitar, and write song lyrics, which aren’t captured in the checklist. So the checklist needs to be updated, because I have increased my focus on music. Here’s an early example. It’s been hard, and fun.

I also got a puppy this week, so that will probably affect my August scores, unless I add a “doggy care” habit!

Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little – Luke 7:47 NIV


Here’s why and how I track my daily habits.

Thanks for reading!

Dance Upon The Moon Tonight, updated (a tribute to 月亮代表我的心)

Some months ago (years ago?) I started to record English versions of my favorite Chinese pop and love songs. They weren’t very good. So I stopped.

Since then I’ve been learning how to play an instrument and sing at the same time. And have tried to improve my singing voice. So I’m starting to share again.

The English lyrics are written by yours truly, they’re heavily inspired by the original. Nothing in the performance is edited or produced. More songs to come!

Dance Upon The Moon Tonight
Original: 月亮代表我的心 by 邓丽君

You ask how much I long for you
If what we have is true
All I want is you
All you need is to
Watch the moon shine bright tonight

You ask how much I long for you
If what we have is true
My heart longs for you
Your heart knows it’s true
Watch the moon shine bright tonight

The way you looked at night
Stole my heart with just a glance
The way your hand touched mine
As the moon lit our first dance

You ask how much I long for you
If what we have is true
Wait for starry skies
Sway beneath the light
Dance upon the moon tonight

See the starry skies
Sway beneath the light
Dance upon the moon tonight

5: Where 8-year old me lost some trust and stopped bringing toys to school

One day, I decided to bring my favorite action figure to school: He-Man, he of the tight red speedos, long blonde Achilles hair, and gravity-defying sword. I wanted to show him to my friends. In particular to my best friend Terrence. Terrence was quiet and calm and always ready to play. His desk was next to mine. That proximity is probably why we became close friends in the first place. That’s just how little kids do it.

As expected, He-Man was a hit. I was the center of attention among the boys that morning, had a few more friends than usual. You have to remember this was an elementary school in urban high crime low rent Philadelphia, and brand new action figures were simply not casually displayed like Teslas in a Google parking lot.

Everything was great until lunch rolled around. Upon returning from the cafeteria, I opened my desk drawer to find that He-Man had disappeared.

I promptly freaked out as only an eight-year old can. Opened the drawers of nearby desks to quiet stunned protests. Combed the carpeted floor. Dug through the bookshelves. Questioned likely suspects. Attracted so much attention that our teacher Mrs. Frank asked me in a pitched and snappish voice to come here right this minute and why are you causing all this ruckus child.

I walked over, upset and defiant and beginning to despair. One of the few action figures I owned, my current favorite, shiny and without a scratch, and now my ego had brought him to school and my ego had lost him.

As a crowd gathered, I described the case of the missing toy. In the middle of telling my story, a sudden intuition hit me with the force of He-Man’s sword: I knew who done it.

Intuition seized my body and the actions that followed were automatic and uncontrollable. Thus began a behavioral pattern that would repeat itself many times: an overpowering instinct causes drastic action causes momentous life change and also, sometimes, regret.

“I know who has it!” I shouted. Before Mrs. Frank could respond, surrounded by a circle of spectators, I rushed straight to the cubbyholes where each student stored their belongings. I went straight to Terrence’s cubby and pulled out his green Jansport backpack. Brought it over to her desk. Shoved my hand in. Didn’t feel anything, just papers and small sticky objects.

But then — I felt a shape. Pulled it out. Thrust it triumphantly in the air. It was my He-Man. No one said anything. Terrence hung his head.

I remember little of the aftermath. But Mrs. Frank was more intent on resuming order than on playing detective or arbitrator. People dispersed. The drama was over. I put He-Man in my drawer and never brought him to school again. Terrence and I still spoke, but whether due to my anger or his shame, we drifted from close to casual. Maybe I learned something, probably I didn’t. Because just weeks after the incident, I brought two unsharpened glittery pencils to class. And they, too, vanished.


This is one in a series of personal reflections. I’m writing them in chronological order, starting with childhood. Click here to see what’s been published. Thanks!

What’s your ministry?

Jim Carrey’s commencement address at Maharishi University is quintessential Carrey: mostly hilarious, sometimes awkward, and very deep. Among the many parts that stayed with me, this was one of my favorites:

I realized one night in LA that the purpose of my life had always been to free people from concern, like my dad. When I realized this, I dubbed my new devotion, “The Church of Freedom From Concern” — “The Church of FFC”— and I dedicated myself to that ministry. What’s yours?

To a young Carrey, his purpose wasn’t just to tell jokes onstage and get paid. It was greater: He wanted to free people from their everyday concerns, from the worries of their workaday lives. The Church of FFC. And over his almost 4-decade Hollywood career, he has preached his message to countless acolytes.

His use of the word “ministry” is particularly interesting. He doesn’t use the words mission or passion, not once in the speech. He specifically calls his life purpose a ministry, and he uses the Church metaphor to hammer his point.

Wikipedia defines Christian ministry in the following way:

Ministry is an activity carried out by Christians to express or spread their faith, the prototype being the Great Commission. [It is] “carrying forth Christ’s mission in the world”, indicating that it is “conferred on each Christian in baptism.”

Religious wisdom is a big interest of mine. I try to spend some time each day learning from and practicing different religious traditions. Even if it is a few minutes reading from my Personal Bible, or ten minutes of quiet morning meditation. I don’t consider myself a dyed in the wool member of any labelled tradition (here is more about my approach to faith, inspired by Sri Ramakrishna). I find uplift and community in going to Church on Sundays (and like to sing the songs). I receive calm and clarity from long meditation sessions. Feel a sense of discipline and rigor in learning about zakat and salat in Islam, wisdom in reading excerpts of the Talmud and Midrashim. So Carrey’s anecdote got me thinking: What is my ministry? What is yours?

Within the realm of self help and productivity, we are often taught the value of having a life mission, a personal mission statement. To me, the concept of a personal ministry differs from a mission in at least two important ways:

  • A ministry is evangelical. The root of “evangelism” is good news. As an evangelist, your job is to spread the good word, the good book, the good news. If you have a ministry, a core part of your job – if not the entire job – is to spread your message, because it is the right thing to do. A mission, on the other hand, could be something you keep to yourself
  • A ministry is about changing others first. A minister’s job isn’t to transform herself but to serve and lead others. Your mission could be to visit every country in the world. But you wouldn’t call that a ministry unless the main reason you were doing all this travel was to inspire others to follow you. To help others, it helps to be clear about your potential community, your hoped for target audience. Pastors call this their flock. A mission, meanwhile, could start and end with yourself, and doesn’t require an audience

Put differently, you can think of a personal ministry as an outward focused, people first mission. Seen this way, it becomes clear that many of today’s most successful people are essentially such ministers:

  • NYT columnist David Brooks’s ministry is to teach his educated audience how to think deeply about the moral and spiritual dimensions of life. To live more conscientiously and purposefully amidst all the new technology, the fomo, the hyper speed distraction. Brooks uses the term “moral geniuses” to describe behavioral exemplars like Atul Gawande and Dorothy Day. They are saints in his ministerial canon
  • Startup investor Paul Graham preaches the value of starting a company, and the power of writing software. His flock is some combination of everyone who can write code and everyone who wants to start a company to control their career destiny. His good news is captured in 100s of essays. His church is the Y Combinator school and his many thousands of dedicated essay readers.
  • Tim Ferriss has a very dedicated flock who will follow him anywhere: These people want to achieve the dream of a 4 hour workweek, want to optimize every aspect of their lives from their bodies to their relationships to their morning routines. He ministers through his podcast, his blog, and his books

What’s your ministry? I’m slowly discovering mine. Some themes on this blog include the power of habits to give your life structure and meaning, the value of studying all religious traditions for their life advice, and the need to free yourself from outdated and perhaps even harmful social structures — whether the corporate ladder, the addiction to prestige, or the college admissions mouse trap (I prefer “mouse trap” over “rat race”).

Who are the flock you want to attract, inspire, and support? What is the insight bigger than yourself that motivates you to get up every morning and spread across the world?

I leave you with a favorite Indian proverb:

Every morning you wake up and ask yourself, what good things am I going to do today, remember that when the sun goes down at sunset, it will take a part of your life with it

Daily Habits Checklist (June 12th – July 9th): Fulfill with love the most common and obscure duties

It wasn’t a great month with respect to scores, but it was a great month with respect to new experiences, travels, new friends, and career realizations.

Some other thoughts:

I find myself, again, waffling back and forth on the importance of publishing something as a daily habit. I don’t want to publish a post just to check it off, yet there is value in a forcing mechanism to share your work with the world…

The longer I meditate, the better I feel, both in its immediate aftermath and for many hours after. Sometimes, just sometimes and just for brief moments, within the meditation you tap into a source of wonder and truth and awe that just makes you understand, this is what it’s all about. This transcends. This stuff overwhelms.

I gave to the nonprofit Save the Children this month, which was recommended by Bill Gates in a tweet. But I have decided to replace my monthly giving habit with an annual one instead. So one lump sum donation each year instead of one small donation each month. Yes, this is more efficient, but my primary concern was not the hassle but rather the risk of handing over my personal info (eg, my address, my credit card) again and again to a new organization every month, many of whom are underfunded and unfamiliar with the latest in data encryption and data security.

There is no one in the world who cannot arrive without difficulty at the most eminent perfection by fulfilling with love obscure and common duties. – P. de Caussade

Here’s why I track habits this way.

Thank you for reading!