Archive for the 'Advice' Category

Goals

There is a lot of talk these days (well, for a while now) about SMART goals. Goals should be S.M.A.R.T., or that is what people say. I get that it’s a good acronym (though I suspect it’s more of a backronym than an actual acronym). But I have issues with the whole thing.

First of all, the only consistent bits are the “specific” and “measurable” parts, but I feel like those are nearly redundant. Of course with an explanation you can see the difference, but how hard would it have been to combine those ideas into something that embodies both ideas? But then it wouldn’t fit into the neat little acronym, right?

And even if you don’t feel like those ideas can be joined together, do we really need to make sure every goal meets five criteria? And don’t forget that some authors add additional letters to the end (SMARTER, for example). I want to write goals, not go through checklists to make sure my goals meet five or seven or more criteria.

For various reasons I have been asked to write a lot of goals lately. And I’ve also been trying to help others come up with and meet goals that will help them improve. And that’s the thing: I feel like most goals should lead to some kind of improvement. Isn’t that the focus, anyway?

So I feel like the first criteria should be that goals focus on improvement and responsibility. Of course, we don’t need to include “improvement” in some kind of “how to write goals” piece, because that’s the purpose of a goal, not part of the design. But it is worth mentioning, in case someone is setting goals that might lead to some kind of degradation. Plus, when we take responsibility for our own shortcomings we set goals. We aren’t blaming circumstances, or our parents, or our spouse, or our coworkers, or our boss, we are saying, “I have something I need to improve because I am responsible for this.” And with that in mind, goals that you set for someone else will rarely be reached, unless they are heavily invested in all aspects of the goal. They must feel that the goal is necessary and be invested in generating the goal to the maximum allowable extent.

#1 Goals should be focused. You should be pretty specific about what category you want to set a goal in, how you plan to execute it, what you plan to do, and why you are doing it. Focus on something, find ways to remind yourself about the goal and the focus. This is something you’ll need to carry with you in the forefront of your mind through to reaching the goal. Focus is key.

#2 The next thing that I think a goal should be is reasonable. I don’t just mean this in the normal sense of the word (that the goal not be absurd or unreasonable). You should be able to reason about your goal, you should have reasons for your goal, and you should reason your way to the goal. Goals should be accompanied by reason from inception through to completion. Of course goals should also be reasonable in the sense of “not unreasonable or absurd.”

#3 The final thing I feel is an important part of goals is that they be restrictive. I know that one is a little odd (especially since it’s such a negative word most of the time), but hear me out. We grow though self-imposed restrictions and through work. We increase in self control by exercising restraint, which leads to work. We deny ourselves instant gratification in order to gain discipline. Nearly all good things in life come through some form of personal restriction and hard work. By restricting our options we gain freedom. There are a lot of potential actions I could take right now, but by removing most of them I am free to chose the best options. For example, I could commit any number of crimes right now, but by restricting myself to the list of possible actions in the “completely legal” list I am avoiding issues with the law (which could lead to even worse imposed restrictions) and I have a much shorter list of potential activities to choose from, which avoids overload. The brain is actually pretty good (most of the time) at removing options in order to more easily and quickly make decisions. And similarly, by occasionally imposing restrictions on ourselves with purpose we can grow more readily and easily. A favorite exercise among writers and one I enjoyed in college was to pick a common word and write a paper or story without using it. You might try writing a short story without including the word “the” or “and” or “then.” By doing so you grow, because you are forcing your brain to work harder than usual to complete a mundane task. Restrictions lead to growth, so long as they are reasonable (see #2). Reasonable here means your restrictions shouldn’t be too loose or too tight. Seek moderation.

Again, like with the mention of “improvement” above, I don’t feel that my mnemonic device need include the final bit of advice. Moderation, balance, simplicity, and elegance. These are fantastic criteria for anything, whether it be a goal or an interaction with your neighbor. I seek moderation, balance, simplicity, and elegance in all things, and I encourage others to do the same.

So while FRR isn’t a great acronym (Focused, Reasonable, Restrictive), I do feel that it is a better set of criteria for goals. Before finalizing any goal, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is the focus?
  2. What are the reasons for needing goals here? Why am I focusing on this? Why do I need the goal? What do I hope to accomplish? How can I reason my way to that accomplishment? (Don’t stop here, there should be lots of questions in the “reasonable” stage, all the way through to reaching the goal.)
  3. In what ways will I restrict myself in order to reach this goal?

The final bit of advice I have for goals is to keep records. Record your progress. Record your thoughts. Record your failures. Reason your way through the records from time to time and take assessment. Do you need to adjust course? Is the goal wrong? Is your methodology flawed? Are there any potential improvements you’re missing?

So while the three steps (FRR) are the most important bit when forming goals, the entire process looks like this:

  • Take responsibility and use goals for improvement.
  • Create goals that are Focused, Reasonable, and Restrictive.
  • Seek moderation, balance, simplicity, and elegance.
  • Keep records throughout the process.

If you do all of those things you will have success, which is the primary objective of any goal. If you do not taste the sweetness of success you will struggle with goals for the rest of your life. Start small (and simple), taste the success, and take small steps from there, setting goals along the way.

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Father’s Day Story: Borrowing the Jack

My memory has never been my strongest asset, but I distinctly recall having a moment very similar to what I am about to describe. The following is in honor of Father’s Day. It took place many years ago, and thus includes quite a bit of speculation and embellishment, though the basic spirit of the lesson and event remain in tact.

“You’re borrowing the jack,” my father said.

I don’t remember what we were talking about exactly, but I feel like we were sitting on the floor. “What are you talking about?” I asked. Whatever he was talking about, I would receive it with contempt because my father often used stories, parables, and analogies that I thought were stupid, cheesy, or irrelevant.

“You’ve decided that you know how it’s going to turn out without even trying. You’re borrowing the jack. Don’t do that.”

I knew he was going to tell me a story to explain his phrase “borrowing the jack,” but I didn’t want to ask for the story. Not that this was a common standoff between us, but the way I remember it, this particular instance involved me not wanting to ask for the story that I knew was coming. I didn’t realize it then, but it would be one of the best teaching moments I would remember with my father for the rest of my life. It certainly wasn’t the most important lesson he taught me, or even the most powerful, but the story and the moment in which he taught it to me will be with me forever.

Although he told me the story one way, I remember it as I envisioned it in my head as he spoke. Now, with a little detail added in, I will tell you what I saw in my mind.

There was a man, Phil, and his wife, Susan. Phil was an unemployed auto mechanic who was having a very bad day. While out looking for work the day before, he had picked up a nail in his tire, and he discovered the flat tire on the way to do more job hunting in the morning. Angry and frustrated he went back inside, threw his jacket down on the couch, and collapsed in a huff.

“What’s the matter, hon?” his wife asked.

“Oh Susan, it’s the car. We’ve got a flat. I need to change the tire, but we sold our only jack to buy groceries just last week.”

“Well,” offered Susan, “I was out walking yesterday while you were looking for a job, and I saw one of our neighbors at the top of the hill changing his oil. His car was definitely jacked up. I’ll bet you could borrow his jack.”

Phil thought for a moment. “I don’t know him. I don’t think he’d loan his jack to just any stranger.”

“You won’t know until you ask,” his wife reminded him. And with a smile she handed him his jacket and hurried him out the door. “We need you to go find a job. No time to waste. I love you.”

Phil stood outside his house looking up the hill at his neighbor’s house. The house sat at the end of a long driveway that climbed several hundred feet up. He thought about going back inside, but when he imagined his wife’s disappointment he forced himself to begin the climb to his neighbor’s front door.

As he went he thought about how it would go when he knocked on the door. “What if I had a jack still, and a stranger knocked on my door asking to borrow it?” he asked himself. Being that he needed nothing more than he needed that jack right now, except, perhaps, a job, he couldn’t see himself being very willing to part with it. What if the stranger damaged or lost the jack? Some jacks are very expensive, and if the neighbor were as poor as he was he surely wouldn’t want to worry about trying to replace something as essential as a jack.

He was about a quarter of the way up the hill now, and he stopped. “I should just go back home. If he’s as poor as I am he won’t want to worry about replacing the jack. I shouldn’t bother.” But again he was reminded of his wife’s encouragement and decided to keep going.

A minute later he was thinking again about how it might go when he asked. “Perhaps he will see me as some kind of freeloader. I didn’t even bring anything to offer him in return for such a favor.” He imagined his neighbor forever avoiding him and thinking less of him for being so straightforward as to borrow a jack without offering anything in return. “Of course, I have nothing to offer him. There is no use in asking for a favor without having anything to offer in return.” And so he stopped and turned around. But before taking a step toward his house he imagined his wife’s righteous anger at him for failing to even ask. So, he turned back to face up the hill and took another step toward his neighbor’s home.

He managed to make it all the way to the doorstep. He raised his hand to the door, and just before knocking he asked himself, “What if I’m rudely interrupting him?” The neighbor might be very intolerant of interruptions. It is never a good idea to ask someone for something when you’ve angered them. “I haven’t got anything to offer him in return, he probably values his jack as much as I would and would never lend it to a total stranger, and he’s probably busy anyway.” He pulled his hand back and looked over at his shoulder at his own home. Sure, his wife might be disappointed, but she’d be disappointed anyway if the neighbor refused to loan him the jack. And so, without knocking he turned and went back home.

“Not only did the man make several potentially false assumptions about his neighbor, he never even gave the neighbor the chance to say yes or no. This man’s way of borrowing the jack was such that he could never succeed since he didn’t even try,” concluded my father. And the lesson, though lost on me at the time, stuck forever.

In preparation for writing this I did a little poking around and found two other similar stories. Apparently this is either the basis for a joke, or based on a joke that can be read here. Additionally, it also appears as a similar yet distinct lesson here.

I owe my father a lifetime worth of thanks for all that he has taught me. Though I cannot promise that I haven’t borrowed the jack once or twice, I have made a habit of reminding myself as often as possible that you can never succeed if you don’t try. I love you, Dad, and all the wisdom you shared and continue to share with me.

Five Lessons

English: Illustration from Lessons in Geography.

Image via Wikipedia

There are five lessons that I must pass on to my family. Primarily, it is my hope to mold my life until I can be a good example of these five principles for my wife and children. As I approach a personal mastery of each lesson I will be better equipped to help those who look up to me in their efforts.

Each lesson contains specific benefits to our spiritual, mental and physical health.

The Power of Words

Words have a powerful impact in every part of our personal lives and the lives of those around us. They can change attitudes, control actions and influence others. The benefits of verbal self-mastery are unquestionable.

Say what you mean and mean what you say. Speak only the truth. Ask the questions you want the answers to. Choose your words carefully before you open your mouth. Do not blurt things out. Negative speech of all kinds should be avoided. An entire lesson can be taught with a simple, well-planned and well-placed question.

By controlling our tongues we become masters of our minds, bodies and spirits. We can be a great support for those around us and we can be powerful teachers. Our speech should be uplifting, enlightening and wise.

The Importance of Honest, Hard Work

Working hard, doing work the right way and learning to do it with a good attitude are essential in life. Work is an eternal principle.

It has been shown that doing work the hard way is excellent exercise for our brains. Learning to be efficient is different from taking shortcuts. You should work as hard as required. Be honest about your work. Proper planning and care can ensure success with any task, regardless of how hard or big it may seem at first.

If you do not understand the goal your work could be in vain. Ensure that you communicate clearly and ask questions until you fully understand your task before you begin working.

Any change, large or small, that you make around you should make the world a better place. If it does not make the world a better place, fix your change so it never happened. If you can’t fix it, try to make it better and get help if you need it.

Putting Away Childish Things

It is important to enjoy each stage of life to the best of your ability. Childhood is a great time to have fun and focus on the few responsibilities you may have.

Maturity doesn’t happen by accident. As we pass from one stage of life into another we must seek out ways that we can grow. By reviewing past stages of life and identifying behaviors and possessions that are childish we can work to put those things behind us.

True friendships mature with us and get better with age. Other relationships can stunt our growth and work against our efforts to become more mature. Do not work to prolong a relationship with someone who is a hazard to your physical, spiritual or mental health.

The Benefits of Simplicity

Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

We must learn to distinguish between needs and wants, and we must balance our lives. It is necessary to have some entertainment and comfort in life, but these things must be enjoyed in moderation. Too many physical belongings, regardless of their purpose, can distract from what is truly important.

Get your priorities straight and shed any physical possessions you may have that do not truly enhance your life. My father taught me to ask three questions before buying anything: “Do I need it? Do I need it now? Can I live without it?” Asking these questions prior to acquiring anything can help us avoid amassing clutter in our lives.

Cleanliness, order and simplicity give clarity, peace and focus that cannot be experienced amidst clutter and chaos. Our brains cannot generate order in a messy environment and the spirit of God cannot abide a disregard for cleanliness.

The Blessings of the Gospel

Never cease seeking out truth. Many differing ideas exist surrounding our existence and our brains are hardwired to seek meaning behind life.

It could all be for nothing in the end, but when the end of our life does come, which would be worse? Living trying to obey God only to die and cease to exist, or living as though there is no God only to die and come face to face with Him?

If for this reason alone, never stop trying to live the Gospel and seeking spiritual health. You will find that there are numerous benefits to living a life centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Should you one day choose to follow another faith, I will still love you. However, I encourage you to trust in my faith for a while and see if you can gain a personal conviction of its truth as I have. My personal testimony of my spiritual beliefs is something I treasure above all else in life.

 

Edited on January 16th, 2012 to include a line about changes we make in the world. Also included some minor paragraph edits.

Marriage, Arguments, and Reality

Şerafeddin Sabuncuoğlu (1385-1468)

I have no idea how this image is relevant.

I had an argument with my wife this morning. Arguments don’t happen very often any more, but if we didn’t have them I would worry that one of us had been replaced by an android.
To protect the innocent I won’t go into details, but the facts are these: I approached a problem based on an incorrect assumption on my part, and she responded based on an incorrect assumption on her part. It culminated in poor decisions on both sides, and adjourned when I turned on the shower water to wash my morning workout away.
You know what that means, right? Shower philosophy time. I love thinking in the shower, and there are ample scientifically proven reasons why the shower is one of the best places to think. Regardless, I began reviewing the facts and analyzing the events.
What exactly had gone wrong? Of course I could see most of her faults and mistakes as clear as day. Seeing the error in others requires no talent, no intelligence. Figuring out what I could have done differently, now that takes skill.
After what seemed like a few seconds but may have actually been closer to a few minutes, I spotted the fundamental issue. I didn’t spot all of the issues, I’ve never been good at that, but I spotted the fundamental, baseline issue from which all others had sprung: I had assumed that she and I shared the same basic viewpoint on the situation.
The idea that people see the world completely differently isn’t radical, new or even a little surprising. This is a principle that we all live with and deal with on a regular basis. And yet somehow we still manage to forget that others don’t always see things exactly the same way we do. A situation may be laid out so obviously and plainly for us that we take it for granted that others will see it that way too.
Of course, it goes a lot deeper than that. Scientists, philosophers and psychologists have all postulated in one way or another that reality itself only exists because we exist, and that each person’s brain essentially assembles reality from its inputs. Under this extreme view of the world, each person lives in a completely separate reality from the next, and nothing exists at all unless it is being experienced by us.
I think that’s what the whole “if a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it does it make a sound” idea is referring to. Of course the movement and energy released cause shockwaves to carry through the air regardless, but is it really a sound if there is no human there to interpret it as such?
Clearly I’m beginning to digress. Regardless of whether the fallen tree made a sound, the truth is that we all have a certain reality that we live in that is different from the reality of those around us.
Have you ever struggled with something in your life that you saw was not a problem for others, and you felt like they were all in on a big secret that, if you knew it, would enable you to overcome the problem with ease? I know I have felt that way, and I’d like to think that everyone experiences that feeling from time to time.
Never was this feeling more poignant to me than during my mission in Mexico. That was two years with little more to do than sincere, intense personal reflection and improvement. I constantly worked to improve my life in as many areas as I could. And yet, I always felt like I was a few steps behind where I should – or, rather, where I could be. Others around me seemed unconcerned with many of the things I was struggling with.  Much of the world seemed to be in on a secret that was just beyond my grasp. If I could just figure out what it was that they knew, I would be free from my struggles.
Much of that feeling later revealed itself to be unrelated to any secrets. People were unconcerned with what I was struggling with simply because they were unconcerned. They weren’t struggling with it because it wasn’t important to them. However, those who I truly admired for their mastery of the things I was struggling with; they did seem to know something I didn’t. I asked questions, I attempted to learn the secret, but I couldn’t get it out of them. Either they didn’t know they were in possession of this secret, or they weren’t spilling the beans for some reason.
Later, the idea of some universally known secret surfaced again when I was talking to a psychologist for help dealing with an irrational fear of needles. Simple things like blood work and seasonal flu shots were making my blood pressure spike in a way that was deemed unhealthy, so I got to sit down with a trained psychologist.
I rather enjoyed talking with the psychologist. I think I learned more from him than he did about me. However, when we veered away from the needle issue and discussed other problems in my life, I realized that he could see the solutions to my problems but he wasn’t going to tell me what they were. I could see that he saw my life just as I see other people’s lives, just as I saw my wife’s actions after our argument this morning. All of my flaws, mistakes and misunderstandings were clear to him.
So I asked questions, tried to get in on the secret. I wasn’t direct about it, of course. I wanted to probe him a little, see what he would do to help me with my problems. What I found was that he was trained to allow me to continue living with my delusions.
Delusions: time to take a quick break and explain what I mean. A true delusion is a pathological, mental illness. Real delusions involve things like thinking someone you’ve never met on the television disapproves of you in some way, believing that you are under surveillance, or feeling like you have the power to control something outside of your true realm of control. For a delusion to be a true delusion, you must be absolutely certain of it, the presentation of hard conflicting evidence cannot sway your belief, and there has to be something expressly implausible, plainly untrue or just bizarre about it.
By its most basic definition though, a delusion is a false belief held with absolute conviction despite superior evidence. False beliefs that spring from faulty perception are not defined as delusions. However, I would like to use the word delusion here, perhaps calling them minor delusions, for two reasons.
First, we all are susceptible to developing pockets of beliefs in our version of reality that are just plain untrue, and yet when faced with contradictory evidence we are too attached to our false belief to simply accept that we are wrong. While not technically delusions, they aren’t always the result of some malfunction in our perceptive senses, and they don’t always come from missing information. They result from information being pieced together incorrectly. And sometimes it can be a rather subjective thing to say whether one version of reality is really truer than another. For those reasons, I like thinking of these as minor delusions.
Also, the word just works so well. I could call them false beliefs, but that’s two common words whereas delusion is a single, much more fun word.
Back to the story. The psychologist wasn’t making any effort to correct my delusions. It was clear to me that my version of reality conflicted with what could be considered a more universally acceptable version of reality. This is not to say a more popular version of reality, but one that holds more universal truth than my own.
Of course, I’m only talking about little pockets of my reality. I wasn’t living in a world that is any more twisted or untrue than yours or anyone else’s. But in a few little areas of my life I had incorrectly assembled my perceptions into an understanding of reality that wasn’t entirely accurate.
The fact that I was willing to question my version of reality means that I had an open enough mind to go about fixing it, and the psychologist alluded to that, but he made no move to guide my efforts or hand me the truth. I could see that he wasn’t about to let me in on the secret.
Eventually, in at least one of those pockets of delusional belief I was able to identify what I had assembled incorrectly. I did not immediately put things together the right way, but I found the error. Once I indicated that I knew how I was wrong, the psychologist was much more open about the issue. In fact, he was helpful in piecing things together in a better way. He didn’t hand it to me, but he offered a little guidance.
I realized that the secret wasn’t really a secret at all, it was just reality. The feeling that everyone else knew something I didn’t was the realization that I had a minor delusion. Only after identifying the flaw in the delusion was I able to begin reconstructing that portion of my reality into something more accurate. At the completion of that process, one could say I was finally in on the secret.
The psychologist’s behavior taught me a lot about how to handle the delusions I see other people living with. The fact is that we cannot push our reality on others. It just doesn’t work. Until the person identifies a flaw in their perception on their own, they will continue to believe that there is nothing wrong with the reality they live in. This comes down to a universal rule: First and foremost, the only reality that matters is your own.
Learn it well. The only reality that matters is your own. The same is true of the person next to you, and the person you live with. It doesn’t matter how much more right you feel that you are, if they haven’t found the flaw in their reality, then there is no flaw and no amount of pointing it out on your part will make them see it. In fact, the truth or solution that you see might be coming from a delusion on your own part. Caution must be exercised.
This idea actually isn’t new to me at all. I’ve known it since I was a child. You cannot change others. You cannot make them think like you or see things your way. I didn’t completely understand the principle that people had a reality that was different from mine, but I still knew not to attempt to counter their delusions.
A second rule to remember is that blatantly conflicting with another person’s reality is almost always a terrible idea. It is a tactic that might be effective if employed properly, knowledgably and very carefully, but even then it can rarely be executed without causing hurt feelings and pain. It’s like dropping a nuclear weapon. Not a good idea unless you’re willing to live with the consequences and you’re sure that the benefits outweigh the risks. Also, you must fully learn all of the risks, and I am not going to enumerate them here. There are more risks than you might initially realize.
There is a way to influence people without causing this conflict though. First, back to my argument this morning, I should have asked more questions to get a clear picture of how my wife saw the situation. I skipped this step. I’m normally better about it. That is a huge failure on my part.
You cannot help someone unless you know as much about their reality as possible. Find out what it’s like to live in their world. That is the first step.
While doing that step, take a hard look at your own reality. Try to figure out if you might have a little pocket of delusion there as well. Look only at the facts surrounding the situation. Objectively and with an open mind look for evidence that you might be wrong.
Once you have a clear picture of the facts, you must, with a neutral and unemotional viewpoint, reassemble them into a version of reality that you are reasonably sure of, regardless of your original view on the matter. If this process exposes a delusion of your own, accept that you were wrong. We are often emotionally attached to beliefs, especially after an argument where we have been irrational. You must shed these emotional commitments to your beliefs and be willing to believe the truth at any cost.
In your mind, or on paper if it helps, list the ways that your viewpoint was wrong and list the ways that the other person’s viewpoint was right. Both lists should always have at least a few points. If you can’t fill anything in, then admit defeat. You can never help anyone change their views if you cannot identify how they are right and how you are wrong. Even if you were 100% right about the issue, you must find a few ways that you were wrong, either in your behavior during the argument or in your approach to the situation. Most importantly, figure out how you were wrong according to the other person.
Working within the other person’s reality, and keeping in mind all of the ways they were right, you must selflessly devote yourself to figuring out how to help them figure out that they have a delusion without telling them. It has to be their idea, their discovery. This is super trick, and may take a lifetime of practice.
Once you’ve figured out how to do it, you execute your plan. Ensure that they are aware that you fully understand their point of view, and stress the ways that they are right. Do not tell them that you have the intention to change them. Do not tell them about all of the work you are doing to bring the argument to a conclusion. They should only know that you admit where you are wrong, you acknowledge where they are right, and you fully understand their point of view. Beyond that, your subtle attempt to help them find the flaw in their reality should be covert, well-meaning and it should go almost entirely unnoticed.
Some might call this manipulation. It is. If motivated by love and sincerity, and if it is done maturely and passively, without pride or feelings of superiority, then it can be a powerful tool that you can use to help your spouse.
I have not mastered this process, nor am I completely sure of its veracity or completeness. However, the fact is that no two realities are completely identical, and yet when two people marry they should become one. They should, as far as possible, attempt to share a reality. They should communicate, work together and be completely open with each other. The two do not need to share the same interests, ideals, philosophies, beliefs or toothbrush. But they do need to share a reality. Each must be open with the other in such a way as to allow their partner to see things the way they are in the other’s reality, and each must have an open enough mind to find and shed delusions when they are encountered.
Our argument adjourned when I turned on the shower water, and before I got out I decided on an apology. It is my belief that all arguments should end with both parties apologizing, regardless of who was right and who was wrong. Even if you were right, you still perpetuated the argument somehow. You made a mistake. Apologize for it.
In the shower I attempted to identify what had thrown her into an emotional warzone. I thought I had inadvertently attacked her on a homemaker level. So I apologized for making it sound like I didn’t appreciate the work that she does, and assured her that I am very grateful for what she does and it wasn’t my intention to sound critical of her work. She accepted my apology, but didn’t apologize to me. I can forgive that. No big deal.
Later she told me that it wasn’t the way I sounded unappreciative that had offended her. It was my offering of advice rather than help.
So I made another incorrect assumption. This one didn’t cause an argument. Good. However, it was now apparent that she had assumed that I was trying to force unsolicited advice on her. This gave me instant access to a large portion of mostly unexplored regions of her reality. Also good.
I will continue to form a clearer picture of her world, her reality. As I refine my picture I will be better equipped to help her. I can only hope she is doing to same for me. She learned that I wasn’t attempting to give her advice, but she hasn’t learned in what way, or what I was attempting to do. I fear that I have learned far more about her reality than she has about mine. However, we are both making progress at our own pace, and we are both improving a little each day.
And that makes me feel good. I have a great deal of respect for my wife, and I admire her strength in dealing with someone who obviously thinks far too hard and long about things. It rarely matters who is right and who is wrong when you’re married to your best friend who loves you whether your right or wrong. You can’t ask for more than that.

New Computer? – Start Here

**EDIT**

If you’re just looking for a list of free software to install on your computer, I’ve created a Springpad notebook full of links to my favorites. If I find anything else to add, I’ll put it there.

I want to start out by saying that I am just a guy. I wasn’t paid to write any of this, I don’t work for any of the companies mentioned, and these are all just my opinions. If any of the mentioned companies wanted to pay me because I wrote all these nice things about them, I’d be willing to talk to them about an arrangement. 😉

Having said that, here are the chronicles of my recent adventure procuring and setting up my new laptop. I’m going to break this down into three separate categories: Hardware, Pre-installed Software you Don’t Need, and Free Software you Might Need. Lucky for you, I’m all about free, open-source and simplicity; so the only part that I spent money on was the hardware.

I’ve designed this as a sort of guide to assist YOU in purchasing and setting up a new computer. People are always looking at my glasses. After they get a good look at my glasses, they say, “Hey, I need a new computer. What kind should I get?” People with new computers are always asking me, “Is it better to just use Internet Explorer, or should I get one of those new browsers?” Also, it has been my own experience that just using all of the default software (that ships with the system) for document editing, virus handling, and many other tasks is a bad idea. So, here are all of my answers and tips in one place. This may not be the definitive guide to getting a new computer, but it is MY definitive guide for those who need it.

So, without further chit-chat, let’s look at your hardware options.

HARDWARE

This one’s easier than you might be inclined to believe. Sure there are a lot of choices, but it all comes down to what you want to use the computer for.

The computer I wanted this time around was a laptop I could actually take places. Last time I got a laptop (over five years ago) it weighed ten pounds, it was more of a desktop replacement and cost me over two thousand dollars. Now I’ve got a desktop, and I wanted an inexpensive computer that could go places with me AND do stuff. I’ve got an Asus eee PC (a netbook), but that thing can’t really do stuff. I mean, it can do some stuff (I use it for NaNoWriMo every year), but it’s a little wimpy when it comes to multitasking and other processor/RAM intensive activities.

The Argument for Desktops

First, if you’ve got the space for it and you don’t need to move it, get a desktop. Laptops have really gone down in price lately, but an equivalent (as far as hardware and capabilities) desktop will always cost less than its laptop counterpart (as of this writing).

Desktops have the greatest range in options as well. You can get a cheap-o system that is really only good for running your web browser and a word processor for under a hundred dollars, or you can pay tens of thousands of dollars for systems that can perform at speeds rivaling supercomputers. No matter what you’ll be using the desktop for, you can always find a system that perfectly meets your needs without spending more than you have to. Always.

The first step in selecting a desktop is to imagine yourself using that computer for the next two years. What will you use it for? Do you play many games? You might need to spend more for a system that will be compatible with future game releases. Will you be hooking it up to your TV to watch shows and movies? There are a lot of media center pc options. If you’re a Mac person (which, I might be if I had more money), you might want an Apple TV rather than a new computer.

Just decide what you’ll need the computer to be able to do, and consider these simple guidelines (which, unless you’re a “power user,” will more than cover the basics). I don’t need to say it, but if you know enough about computers to know that these guidelines aren’t comprehensive, then these guidelines weren’t written for you.

  • RAM – For most users, this is arguably the most important decision. More RAM means faster, smoother, more powerful computing. You want to open and use every program installed on your computer at the same time? You need lots of RAM. Will you only do one thing at a time for the rest of the time you own the computer? You can get by with 2 Gigs or less (depending on that one program you’ll be running!).
  • Operating System Bits – Related to RAM, but separate, is the operating system you’ll be using. Right away I have to mention that a 32 bit operating system cannot handle a full 4 Gigabytes of RAM, and certainly not more. If you will want 4 Gigs or more of RAM, you’ll need a 64 bit OS. Otherwise, 32 vs 64 bits will not have much of an impact on you.
  • Operating System Flavor – Which OS you choose will depend on many factors, but at the risk of bringing on hoards of criticism, I’m going to go ahead and simplify things this way: If you’re lost when it comes to choosing your operating system, just get Windows 7. Sure, Macs are simple, but getting software for them can be a hassle. Windows may have a poor track-record when it comes to stability and ease of use, but I’m putting a lot of faith in Windows 7, and I think it’s a safe choice for YOU. If you know you want a Mac though, please get it!
  • Processor – When it comes to desktops, you’re really only going to concern yourself with how many cores and processors you want. Adding processors and cores means better ability to process multiple instructions at a time (translating to blazing speed and excellent multitasking), while a single core on a single processor will more than meet the needs of most users. Don’t get the fancy processor set-up unless you know you need it. For most modern operating systems and software, though, I recommend at least a single processor with dual cores. More than that and you’d better be doing some serious video editing or 3D graphics (like games).
  • Hard Drive – If you’re doing video editing or if you’re archiving your DVD collection on the hard drive, get something huge. If you’re just surfing the Internet and writing papers in Word, you don’t need much hard drive space. Even the smallest hard drives shipping these days are more than ample for the average user. Note that media center systems should have more hard drive space to store videos or recorded television.

Sure, there are more factors than just these to consider, but if you’re not a power user who already knows about the other factors, then you don’t need to worry about them. What you don’t know can’t hurt you here.

The only other thing I would caution is to avoid brands you’re not familiar with and be wary of prices that are significantly lower than competing systems with similar capabilities. Your desktop shouldn’t be too expensive, but don’t be a cheapskate once you know what you want. Just pay what the trusted manufacturers are charging.

I currently use a first generation HP TouchSmart for my desktop, and it’s held up very well in the two years we’ve owned it. Both of my laptops are Toshibas, and we love them. Namebrand systems are always a good bet.

Where Desktops Fail

The only problem with a desktop is that it is not very portable. Sure, some of the newer CPU box form-factors (especially in the case of media center computers) are very small and lightweight. However, the screen and input devices are not built in, thus to use the system it must be hooked up to these things, and to move it you have to unplug everything. Convenient? No.

So what if you really need something you can take to class with you? You need either a laptop or a netbook. Can’t decide which one? Consider this:

I thought I could get a netbook and do the same things with it as I do with my laptop. I was wrong. Even with a full size keyboard attached and an external mouse, the netbook screens are too small to be practical in a number of applications. For a true, natural computing experience, you’ll still want a larger system. They make laptops that are much closer in size (and price) to netbooks, but they are much more convenient. If you’re not sure about getting a netbook, don’t. Just go for a smaller laptop. I promise you’ll be happy with it.

If you know you want a netbook, get it. If you’re not sure, don’t. You’ve got to be committed to liking your netbook, or you’re going to hate it.

Other than the netbook vs laptop decision, there isn’t a whole lot more to think about. How portable do you want it? There are a range of sizes from 13 inches to over 18 inches for screens. Some are less than an inch thin, and others have huge 12 cell batteries that lift them about three inches off your table top. Some run hot from having their hardware crammed in to a small space, while others have minimal hardware configurations and are quiet and cool. Again, the considerations for desktops will all hold true for laptops, but you might want to consider the following IN ADDITION to the desktop suggestions:

  • Overall Size – You’re getting a laptop because a desktop isn’t portable enough for you, but how portable do you need your laptop to be? If you are still just going to leave it set up in one place for long periods of time, you might consider a larger desktop replacement laptop. These systems offer the same performance as a desktop, at often competitive prices, but at the end of the day the screen folds up and you can pack it away in a bag. Expect these to weigh close to ten pounds though! Then there are the ultra portables that weigh in at under five pounds (mine weighs like three pounds!). Keep in mind that a netbook can weigh close to one pound, but you’ve already decided you want a laptop, right?
  • Battery Size/Usage – Some laptops these days are being designed as marathon machines. They can squeeze almost a full day of usage out of a single charge, but that efficiency comes at a price (both in dollars and performance). Most laptops are designed to fully contain a six cell battery, but by doubling the number of cells to twelve (and subsequently, increasing the size of the battery pack itself, causing it to protrude out the back or bottom of the computer), you can double the life of the battery. Also, Intel and AMD make processors specifically designed to use less power. They usually run at far less than 2 Gigahertz, and they cannot handle too many big tasks like gaming and video editing as well. You could try, but if that’s what you need the system for (primarily) you’ll just have to charge the system more often.
  • USB Ports – If you use a lot of devices at once, you’ll need at least three USB ports. I always recommend using an external keyboard and mouse with a laptop whenever possible simply because they can be replaced much easier than the built-in devices. The less you use them, the less likely they are to break. So, with a keyboard and mouse plugged in, you will want to have at least one more USB port for external hard drives, thumb drives, cameras or whatever else tickles your fancy. A few laptops only have two ports (one on each side), most have three, and a few have up to five USB ports. Get as many as you can without spending too much just for that feature. Also keep in mind that some USB devices have a special “Y” shaped cable that plugs into two USB ports. If you might need one of these devices, you’ll want a laptop with two USB ports that are close together, not one on each side.

In my most recent purchase, I wanted something far more portable than my old laptop but more capable than a netbook. I went with a Toshiba Satellite, ultra thin system. This particular system (like most ultra thin, lightweight systems) does not have an optical drive (no DVD or CD drive). That wasn’t an issue for me because I knew that all of the software I could ever need I was going to download for free once I got it connected to the Internet. If you install a lot of software from disks but still want a system like mine, there are some great external drives that will meet your needs. I may end up getting one too so I can watch movies on my laptop, but for now I’m fine without an optical drive.

Accessories

The final hardware consideration is, what else do you need? Some people need lots of storage but end up choosing a laptop with a smaller hard drive. In that case, just get an external hard drive. Do you transfer a lot of files between systems? Get a thumb drive. Actually, I recommend that people get thumb drives even if they don’t need them for transferring files. They make a great place to keep backups of your most important files.

Keyboard:

The only thing I know you’ll need if you got a laptop is a mouse and keyboard. There’s no getting around it – using the laptop keyboard puts wear on it that could eventually require maintenance. If you use an external keyboard, and it breaks, you can just unplug it and get another one. My favorite typing keyboard ever (that I’ve used anyhow) is the Logitech Classic Keyboard 200. It currently sells for $13.99 on Amazon.com, it is comfortable, and I’ve never had any problems with it. I love it.

Mouse:

I do recommend spending a little more for your external mouse though. Touch pads are great for basic navigation and occasional clicking, but nothing beats a scroll wheel on the Internet, and when doing graphics work or gaming you just can’t live without a mouse. My current favorite is the Microsoft Explorer series. Specifically, my wife and I love our Explorer Mini mice. Amazon.com sells them for about $40, they retail for about $60, and there is currently a vendor on Amazon that is selling them for under $20 (with $4 shipping). The great thing about the Explorer mice is that they will track on literally anything but glass and mirrors (although in some tests these mice have actually tracked on glass and mirrors!). We can use them on shag carpet, glossy surfaces, pitted surfaces, hair, clothing, anything at all, and more. If you want a great mouse, Microsoft actually has a great product.

PRE-INSTALLED SOFTWARE YOU DON’T NEED

All computers come with what is lovingly called “bloat-ware.” This is software that people pay the manufacturer to include pre-installed from the factory. In some ways I guess it’s good because I’d like to think that the money they earn from that endeavor goes toward keeping costs lower for me, but I rather doubt it.

Anyhow, the first program I highly suggest you uninstall (if it’s installed) is Norton Anti-Virus. Many computers come with it pre-installed along with an offer for a whole year or month or day of free updates. It’s not worth it. Microsoft has a free program you can download right away that does the same thing (well, roughly the same thing).

To get rid of Norton (or any program, for that matter), just go to the control panel and look for “Add/Remove Programs” or something like that. Find the offender, click “uninstall,” and follow the directions. Most virus protection software will require that you restart after removing it. That’s OK.

Now, I don’t recommend you leave your computer virus-protection-free for long. It is a dangerous thing. So once you’ve finished uninstalling the crud you don’t need, make sure you immediately download the “essential” software I have listed below, in the order I’ve listed them.

First though, look for any programs that say “offer” or “setup” next to them and get rid of them (still in the Add/Remove Software tool). Also, some systems (most Toshibas and HPs) come with some kind of game portal that you should get rid of.

Many people will tell you to get rid of a lot more than this, but it’s not always necessary. After you’ve been using the computer for a month or so, go back to the Add/Remove Software tool and look over the list. If you recognize the program and you know you use it a lot, don’t get rid of it. If you recognize it and you know you don’t use it a lot, get rid of it (just make sure you know what it does first!). Everything else is probably OK to leave installed.

FREE SOFTWARE YOU MIGHT NEED

Some of these are more essential than others. I’ll categorize them to simplify this. In some cases it won’t matter what program you get as long as you get something that does the job. So, if you’re ready to get started, open Internet Explorer (unless your system came with another browser pre-installed, in which case you should DEFINITELY use the other one!).

Note: This list is designed for Windows users ONLY. Many of these programs are cross platform, but I’m not going to say which ones because I’m not making this list for Mac users. Sorry guys. Maybe another time.

Essential Software

These are programs that you will need to get – almost everyone needs these programs. Right away, before downloading anything, you need virus protection!

  • Virus Protection – Search for “Microsoft Security Essentials,” or go to http://www.microsoft.com/Security_Essentials/. Click on the big “Download Now” button, save the executable and run it. Make sure you have already removed any virus protection that shipped with your computer, then close your web browser while the program installs. Once it installs make sure it runs OK, then let it scan your system. Depending on the size of your hard drive, this can take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Since this is the first thing you’re doing on your new system, everything should be clean. After it scans your system, you may proceed with this list.
  • New Browser – DO NOT USE INTERNET EXPLORER. Sure, there are a lot of sites that require it, but I can show you how to get around that later. For now, just download one or both of the following browsers and try them out. You won’t miss Internet Explorer after a few days. I promise. My favorite is Google Chrome, but I was once a die-hard Firefox fan (I even have an embroidered FireFox shirt). They are both worlds better than IE, more secure, faster, and prettier. While I might catch some heat for this, I am going to recommend that you just get Google Chrome. It’s better. Once you’ve downloaded and selected a new browser, close Internet Explorer and never open it again (unless you really have to).
  • Free Office Software – While there are a few options for this, my favorite (and arguably the most user friendly and robust) is OpenOffice.org. Just go to their website in your new, shiny browser, and download. It’s that easy. The installation is easy and the program operates a lot like Microsoft Office. There are some differences, but OpenOffice.org can do just about anything Microsoft Office can do, and in some cases it does it better. If you ever find that OpenOffice.org just isn’t meeting your needs, feel free to go back to the Microsoft version, but I don’t think most people will ever need to.
  • Media Player – Windows Media Player is pretty good, but there are a lot of things it can’t handle. For everything else, there’s VLC. VLC can’t do everything, but I’ve never found a video it couldn’t play.
  • Photo Organizer – Since most people maintain some kind of image collection (from digital cameras, web graphics, etc.), you’ll probably want a good program to organize and lightly edit those photos. Google Picasa is a great product that is completely free and I recommend it to everyone.

Everything Else

Those, to me, represent the bare-bones necessities for a new computer. If you get nothing else, make sure you get those things. The remainder of my list is specific to my needs and wants, based on what I want to use the computer for. If you know of other great free programs that aren’t listed here, please add them in the comments.

  • Dropbox – This is a really cool file program. It creates a special folder that automatically backs itself up online any time you add or change files in the folder. If you install Dropbox on other computers and link them with your account, Dropbox will synchronize all of the folders across all of the computers and devices you have Dropbox installed on. I love it.
  • Notepad ++ – If you do any web development or coding the old fashioned way (in notepad) you might want to try Notepad ++. I found this little gem several years ago and have installed it on all of my computers ever since.
  • Skype – For video calls and VoIP, my favorite is still Skype. We’ve been using it for quite a while now and we love it.
  • Google Talk – Actually, I didn’t download the Talk program, I installed the Video and Voice plug-in. While most of our video chats are handled over Skype, we have more friends with Google accounts than Skype accounts. With this plug-in, I can have a video call with any Google Talk contact who is also using the plug-in or the desktop client. I’ve only done it once, and it was a long time ago, but this is a valuable thing to have on standby.
  • Google Earth – There’s nothing cooler than exploring your planet in 3D with a nearly infinitely scalable, detailed and textured model with Google Maps plastered all over it. This is as fun as it is useful.
  • Google SketchUp – I am a bit of a 3D hobbyist, and SketchUp is a great way to rapidly visualize a model. It’s a wildly different experience from most of the 3D software I’ve used, but once I got the hang of it I realize it was easier and more intuitive than anything else I’ve ever tried. Plus, it’s free!
  • Blender – On the subject of 3D, how does a free 3D program with advanced features sound? SketchUp may be easy and fast, but it’s not anywhere near Blender’s level. I don’t know if it’s just me, but Blender is extremely un-intuitive to learn. However, I’ve seen what it can do, and I’m impressed enough to trudge over the learning curve and figure it out.
  • Paint.NET – If I’m going to make awesome 3D images in Blender, I’ll need software like Photoshop to make textures, composites, do touch-ups, and more. Windows Paint won’t do any of that. In fact, Paint is nearly useless. Luckily, there’s a better Paint. This program can do layers, adjustments, transparency and even some cool effects. Sure, there’s a lot that it can’t do, but it’s free. If it does what you need it to then you’ve lost nothing, right? I even made the cover for my new book entirely in Paint.NET.
  • Inkscape – Paint.NET can handle most of my 2D needs, but it is primarily for raster images (bitmaps). For vector images, I love Inkscape. It’s relatively easy to learn, and it can handle almost anything you can dream up.
  • GIMP – Many people believe GIMP capable of anything Photoshop can do. I don’t agree, but I do think GIMP is better than Paint.NET for more advanced jobs. A lot like Blender, I find GIMP hard to learn, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. I want to learn it so I can see how long I can live without Photoshop. Someday I’ll be rich and it won’t matter. Until then, I’ll be struggling with GIMP.
  • WavePad – I haven’t tried this yet, but it’s a free audio editing tool that I hope will allow me to make simple audio tracks for animations or an audio book. We shall see. Once I’ve tried it, I’ll write a review (and link to it from here).
  • VideoPad – Like WavePad, I downloaded this to see if it would be suitable for creating simple promotional or family videos. I just want to be able to cut scenes together, edit things out and add simple effects. If this program is a winner, I’ll write a review.

CONCLUSION

I hope this helped. As I use my system and learn more about what programs are meeting my needs and which ones I don’t have that could help, I may modify this list.

I’m 100% sure of all of the hardware tips though, as well as the “essential software” bit. The important thing to remember is that there are hundreds of thousands of free programs out there that you can find that will do the same things that more expensive software can do. Look to the free stuff first, and if it doesn’t work out, pay for what you need.

Good luck and happy computing!

On Electronic Chain-Letters

I’ve been sick, and I’ve felt like writing, but I didn’t know what to write. Funny thing about inspiration though, it can hit you at any time, and in any text box. I just happened to get the urge to write while responding to an email, and the result was something I wanted to share with everyone.

Blah

I'm not fat - I'm puffing my cheeks.

Hey there. I’m sick today, and I lack the will to do anything except sleep, sit at the computer or at the couch, and do almost nothing. I’ve been thinking for quite some time that I’d like to write an unnecessarily lengthy letter to someone in my immediate or extended family, and since you’re my father-in-law and we haven’t exchanged words in a while, you win the prize.

So, when you forwarded that “touching true story” I thought I’d take a look at it rather than AUA it (Archive Upon Arrival).

The fact of the matter is, that I don’t care for forwards. I’ve got one friend (that’s one person, in the whole of my 200+ email contacts) that has ever forwarded me anything I thought was interesting. Most of the forwards I receive are silly “touching stories” that really don’t mean much to me. I’ve had too much experience with fabricated and embellished stories on the Internet, I suppose.

Anyhow, a really good friend of mine introduced me to snopes.com last year, and ever since then I have used it when faced with something on the Internet that seems outlandish. A quick query on snopes.com revealed a most interesting article written specifically about the email you passed along today. Interestingly, this particular story actually has quite a few true elements in it (most of the stories I have seen circulated in email forwards are so exaggerated and embellished that they are rarely representative of any truth that may have served as their premise). However, several key facts were changed and exaggerated.

The story took place in the early eighties, the boy’s name was Frank, and the Make-a-Wish foundation actually granted this as a wish (along with a ride in a hot-air balloon, and a trip to Disneyland). The most touching part of the real story doesn’t even appear in the email, and to make it worse, the email is copied nearly word for word from one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. The night that the boy died, it was five firemen that climbed into his room, not sixteen.

Here’s the link to the true account (along with the version of the email that the author saw, which is slightly different still from the one you sent me):

http://www.snopes.com/glurge/fireman.asp

So, yes. The story is touching, but I hate reading these stories in email forwards because they are almost all full of embellishment and twisted truths. I find it much more satisfying to scour the news for heartwarming articles that are presented as a collection of facts with the purpose of informing the reader. That way I’m getting completely true stories, which are better than the big, bold, colorful words (usually in the Comic Sans font) that have been changed or invented to elicit an “oh, how darling” response and usually wrap up with a self-righteous plea from the author to get me to say a prayer for some cause (usually, something I don’t care about).

In my view, the Internet is only good for six things, and half of them I don’t want any part of (pornography, gambling and robbery). The only three things I use it for are (presented in order of the value I place on them):

  1. Humor/Entertainment
  2. Communication (keeping in touch with close friends and family)
  3. Access to accounts and services (banking, on-demand-self-publishing services, etc.)

Even getting factual news on the Internet can be a challenge. My father runs the Internet arm of a newspaper corporation in Arizona, and this is a problem they deal with on a regular basis. Sure, there are news sources on the Internet that can be trusted, but they are drowned out by all the chatter and clutter from sources like the mysterious writer of that email you sent me (who, again, did little more than poorly copy another “touching” email, which was nearly a direct copy of a segment of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book).

So, I just use the Internet to look at fun stuff, like this article and clip from Robert Downey Jr.’s acceptance speech. Occasionally there is some interesting news at those trusted sites, like this article about a group of apes that had never had human contact before. Mostly, the Internet loves things that are silly and irreverent, like this historical look at a group of entertainers known throughout history as fartistes, among other names.
The main reason I love the Internet, though, is because of people like David Thorne. I really can’t explain all that well what it is that I love about his work, but I would encourage you to read this email exchange he had with his renters, and this exchange he had with a Blockbuster employee. He is extremely irreverent and at times a tad inappropriate. However, he is a comedic genius. After one of his earliest email exchanges went viral a coworker told David that he would never be able to do it again. David bet him his Christmas bonus that he could, and two weeks later he had another email exchange that went viral.

Essentially, what I love about David Thorne is that he embodies the idea that the Internet is not to be taken seriously. He is quoted as saying, “the Internet is a playground.” I agree, and that is why I don’t like coming across stories that are supposed to be “touching” on the Internet, unless they come directly from trusted news sources. If they don’t come from a trusted news site, then I’m a sucker for believing them until I’ve researched the facts myself.

As you can see, between David Thorne, funny/interesting stuff that comes to me in my feed reader, and finding funny videos like these ones, the Internet provides me with far more entertainment than I even have time for. It barely even leaves me time to read email, especially forwards. However, next time I get a forward from you that claims to tell a “true” story, I’ll check the facts on fark.com and tell you what they say. Sometimes the truth is better than the lies that circulate in chain-emails.

I hope you enjoy the links I’ve provided you with, and we all here love and appreciate the effort you make to maintain a presence in our life. Your daughter and grandchildren send their love, as do I.

Love,

-Brian

No Way to Make Friends

I'm Not Here to Make Friends

I'm Not Here to Make Friends

Sometimes I do or say things that remind me just how differently I see friends and friendship from the rest of the world.

On Facebook today a friend had the following status:

Well, I’m trying to think of New Year’s Resolutions. I want y’all to help me though. Please leave a comment with a trait that I need to work on and a trait that I am good at. The first so that I can get ideas for my resolutions, and the second so that I have something to feel goood about. Thanks.

I decided to be brutally honest and replied with this:

Hum. I’m digging deep here for some honesty. First off, you’re a great guy and a lot of people just adore you which means you’re doing a lot of things right. That’s excellent.

Now… About your resolution. How about making it your resolution to never ask others for their opinion of your strengths/weaknesses? Look inside yourself and find the courage and confidence to be your own critic and leave others out of your personal matters. 😀 If you need a second opinion outside your own, look no further than the Lord. Through prayer and scripture study He can more accurately point out your flaws and strengths better than anyone else I know.

And I mean that with the greatest love and friendship I can convey via the Facebook platform. Have a happy new years!

Am I wrong to be honest when people ask me questions like this? I’m half expecting to find that he has revoked my friendship status on Facebook after this. Of course, I believe the advice is sound, though imperfectly worded.


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