Miles from Home

China Commentary– Youthful Musings on the Environment, Culture & Development

My SSAT essay

with one comment

I recently helped a student after her SSATs by explaining the relevance and arguments behind the phrase, “Success is a more a product of persistence than initiative.” Tonight, I thought to myself, Boo. Boo to the boring prick who wrote that comment. Persistence is for those stubborn enough to see life in the sense of finite list of goals and limited set of outcomes. Initiative is for those who seek new horizons, beyond those of the horizontal hegemony.

I think of myself as a work progress. I think of myself as having a lot of potential. I think of myself as lazy for not surpassing that potential already, at 23. I think I am not too young for retirement. I also think life should be about seeking means to a daily sensation of not-tiring. New things. New ideas. New boxes on the checklist.

Here and now, one asks? How much smoke am I blowing? Well, subtropical rain. Check. Done that. Could get used to not doing it.

I am far from a role model. I continue to mismanage a few simple tasks in my life, i.e. buying a durable rain suit. Yes, “suit.” A full-blown pavement-to-sky plastic paradise. Riding a scooter in subtropical rain, as we, the majority of Taipeiers do, sucks.

But I get by. I do persist. It makes me feel at home. I tell myself: everybody’s doin’ it. Yes, those same words we were taught to resist in D.A.R.E. Ah the rebirth of education, the bliss of cultural immersion!

On a positive note, a more functional and self-promoting point, I have begun the near-impossible task of self-educating. I am the proud reader of a dictionary. It makes for good bedside material. I simply could not find anyone willing to teach me simplified Chinese. Which left only me to blame, and thus Teacher Miles stepped up to the plate.

In other personal affairs: I must confess that I have recently broken a boycott of all Taiwanese (alleged “Chinese”) food. I feel I played a valiant role in the evolving war against awful food. There needs to be a disclaimer on all the websites that praise Taiwan’s culinary genius: 1) This author is freakin’ nuts; or 2) Take with a pinch of salt, a spoonful of soy, a mysterious watery brown liquid sauce that tastes like nothing in particular and comes on almost everything, deep-frying oil, MSG, black pollution dust, and betel nut loogie.

It is, honestly, embarrassing how much I have eaten at TGIFridays here. But Thank God for it! The WTO is forcing American beef into Asia, and it is sustaining my protein levels. That and 7-11 cans of tuna. Stapled together by the poor man’s banquet meal: pasta. I am a man with a plan when it comes to pasta experimentation.

I am proud proponent of random acts of creation. Here at ol’ Chengong Rd., D32, Fl24, for instance, one may hear a little Billie Holiday behind the grunts of a 2am room rearranging. Inspiration strikes at odd moments! Occasionally one needs to rearrange, reinterpret, and rejuvenate. “The journey of one thousand miles begins with one step,” according to the ancient Chinese proverb.

Persistence equals success? Perhaps determination was the intended word. Maybe G.W.B. did a little ghost-writing for some of these (No Child Left Behind) tests, eh? Persistence does not trump initiative. Persistence is for those stubborn enough to see life in the sense of few limited goals and outcomes. Initiative is the precursor to any persistence. I took the initiative to teach myself Chinese. It sounds ridiculous even to me. Without persistence, the effort will perish. But initiative first. Always. Always first.

I am the proud transporter of a personal checklist. Some of these are not shining points of initiative. Thai Fried Grubs: check. Taiwanese Pig’s Blood: check. Some classify as wandering initiative. Tubing the Mekong tributaries in Laos: check. Wreck-diving in the Philippines: check. Some are career-based initiatives. Owning my own business: halfway there. Fluency in Chinese: not close. Developing a “home”: suspended indefinitely.

Have many initiatives! That is my plea. “I am an idea man,” the great John Beckwith said. Support your local initiative; support your own!


Written by Miles

December 14, 2006 at 3:59 pm

One Response

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  1. Miles, my friend, you have once again touched on the essence of an idea with eloquent simplicity. Bravo! I found the end of the posting to be the most relevant. The idea that persistance means nothing but stupidity and stubborness unless it is preceeded by initiative hits the heart of the matter. I find this relates to my life in very significant ways. All day I sit and watch stocks trade. I pick some of those stocks, and I learn all I can about them in the hopes that I can decide to invest (or short) them and make money. I have the potential to spend a month working one idea that ends up not becoming an investment. That would be persistance without initiative. However, I also have the potential of spending five minutes on an idea that does result in an investment and could make my firm millions of dollars, thus, making myself a nice X-mas present to boot. That would be an example of initiative that was so intelligent and so aggressively pursued that persistence was simply not necessary. Unfortunately, I find that the trend of the industry is that the former example happens more than the latter. So, how can initiative be blended with persistence to create success? As you mentioned about checking the boxes on exotic eating, initiative can be taken on simple tasks that almost certainly can be completed without a great deal of persistence. However, more complicated tasks, you mentioned starting a business, learning Chinese, creating a home, cannot be completed without the blend of initiative and persistence. Well, if you only need those two things, why is it so difficult to get more complicated tasks done? I submit that it’s because there must be a balance between the two in the sense that initiative has to encapsulate enough excitement to overcome the risk and monotony of completing the task. There’s risk in everything we do if for nothing else than in the sense that when we choose to do one thing we must choose not to do anything else while we’re doing that one thing and there’s a risk that what we chose to do is the “wrong thing.” I know, I’m just babbling now, but the point is that you have to find something you want badly enough that you’re willing to give up other things, live with the monotany of doing that one thing for a significant amount of time, and do so with the knowledge that what you’re striving for will not necessarily be attained. For you, learning Chinese has not been an exciting enough initiative that you suspend everything else to fulfill it. It sounds like starting a business is on a stronger track.

    I agree with you that it’s okay to retire when you’re 23. I also agree that it’s rejuvinating to constantly seek new initiatives and create rejuvination in the spirit. However, I think that I am guilty many times of pursuing new initiatives with the utmost vigor and having those initiatives flair out before any success is achieved. So how does one rectify that? I think there are several possibilities. I am choosing currently to immerse myself in the initiative of working my balls off until I prove to myself that I am a success at buying and selling stocks. I have chosen to pursue one initiative with my almost all of who I am, and I have done so at the expense of countless other initiatives that I have given up the opportunity of pursuing. I hope that means I will be able to be successful more quickly, and when I retire at 26 years old, I will have put myself in a position to be financially free so that I have the option to pursue a broader range of initiatives. However, my excited pursuit is coupled with the knowledge that I might fail. I might never be a successful stock picker, and there might come a day when I must decide to cut my losses and pusue new initiatives, thus, declaring that I have failed. I feel that I have taken a great deal of initiative in pursuing a business that I have no educational background to pursue. I also feel that I have shown persistance through the long hours over the past two years that I have spent in pursuit. I do not fear failure as I am highly confident that will not be the outcome, and I am excited enough about what I’m doing that even if I should fail, I will walk away with an education and an experience that were fulfilling which is a success in itself. I only have one fear regarding my current pursuit of success, namely that if I did fail or if I did succeed that I would be unable or unwilling to declare defeat or victory and allow my initiative to lead me to a new challenge.

    There seem to be two ways to lose in life. Either you fail in persistance and have dreams burn out before they could flourish. Or you fail in taking initiative and allow the status quo to replace dreams. I hope that before I die I can look in the mirror and know that I succeeded.


    December 14, 2006 at 7:19 pm

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