Look Forward and Let Yourself be Happy

I write a daily journal, at least on most days. I used to write the journal at night, at the end of the day, but all I would do is mull over what went wrong. I would worry if she was really angry at me or just tired, if I could have done better in that meeting, that I was a failure for not finishing something early.

Instead of a healthy digestion of what happened, I would beat myself up.

I would pound away at all the things that I thought I had done wrong. I did a lot of good things, a lot of bad things, and all I would do is sit down and obsess over the mistakes.

If you had an abusive coach like that, would you fire them? I would. I did.

I still write a daily journal, but I do it in the morning. I look forward, and that's everything. I start in the morning. I coach myself forward. I let myself look at what to look forward to.

You are coaching yourself every day. Why would you hire an abusive coach?

The mean coach shows up in the evenings every now and then, but I remind myself that I fired him and send him on his way.

Coach yourself to recognize the great wealth of health, life, friendship, family, and happiness that is right at your fingertips. Let yourself recognize it, to spend your one, crazy life reveling in it.

Attempts at Enlightenment

I'm not enlightened. I aim for it, though.

The world needs more introspection. For every human just discovering that meditation is verifiably amazing for your mind, body, and heart, there are a thousand fretting over how many trinkets the TV says is the only way to demonstrate your love at Christmas. Spoiler alert: the answer is zero.


The business world has a process called five-whys. We pour energy into finding root causes in our jobs, but come home and just sit in front of the TV.

Why do we not approach our whole lives with such rigor? Enlightenment is a process. It is the method we approach the unknowns in our life, and how we either answer them or find peace with our inability to answer them.

The short answer, for me, is to keep digging. The first answer to my questions is the easy answer, the red-herring. Why does this happen to me? Why am I like that? Why does he always do that to me? The real answers are under the layers.

You need not only inspect your pain. You must also ask yourself why you find joy. Why do I love exercise? Why do I miss my favorite teacher? Again, the real answers are under the layers.

Then, when you are exhausted from digging, sit the with thought for a while. Hold it in your lap, and then ask yourself how you will change. That is the magic. You cannot just ask. You must take that knowledge and do.

This is no guarantee that your life will be magical once you ask "why?" a few times. And this is no guarantee that this process will work for you. But try it out.  It has worked for me.

A Reading List

Physical diet and exercise affect your body. Mental diet and exercise affect your mind. Both are foundational.

Here's my current mental diet, most of which is serious. I also love cat videos and cuddling in the late afternoon sun, but that's a different list for a different time.

What's also notable is what's not here: Daily news, magazines, and other forms of information junk food.

Sharing these ideas makes my brain feel naked in public. Some of the ideas may offend you. Maybe at least try considering the idea? You don't have to agree. I don't agree with plenty of the ideas I've found here. A good starting point is an essay on exactly this topic: What You Can't Say:

... because it's good for the brain. To do good work you need a brain that can go anywhere. And you especially need a brain that's in the habit of going where it's not supposed to.

(you can read later with: Kindle, Pocket, Readability, Instapaper, etc.)



I generally have a hard time with "self-help", but these were pretty good:

Credit to Startup Boy for several of the books on this list.

A Broken, Romantic City.

I walk through downtown San Francisco as the sun sets, at night, as the sun stands overhead. When the lights dance off a glass wall and illuminate an ornate masterpiece my heart swells.

These buildings and the spaces and rhythms of the streetcars are living art pieces that I walk through, around, and within. They embrace me, the spaces and spires and gardens. 

Why are you so broken, San Francisco, when I am falling in love with you?

Thanks for the Excuse

I love braising, but I was a skeptic at first.

"You paid how much for this pot?"

"It's going to be impossible to clean this after sitting in the oven for four hours"

(several hours go by)

"Ohmygod this is delicious. Holy shit"

"Woah, this stuff just wipes right off. Are you for real, Mr. Stoneware?"

And now when I have friends in town that I haven't seen in ten years, I braise. Can't wait to eat this.

One Note.

New Zealand put all of its stat points into mountains, rivers, lakes, forests, and birds.

It's difficult to overrate the outdoor adventure you can have in New Zealand. It's difficult to find much else to do. I'm likely spoiled by the Sierras, but New Zealand didn't blow me away. It was spectacular, certainly. But I miss parts of the world like China or the Greater Mekong that pair natural beauty with color, culture, and vibrancy.

There's a thing here in New Zealand called Southland Sushi. White bread and cheddar cheese. Rolled. I'm not kidding. In the US we'd probably call it a Redneck Roll.

Each bend had a new vista to gawk at. Every trail led me to new plants and shrubs. Each pause let sandflies bite new holes in my legs.

You can't go very long on the roads here without stopping to take a photo. It's jaw-dropping anywhere away from the endless farms, which never make it into a normal tourist's visit.

If you aren't careful, you'll get accustomed to seeing deep green forests blend upwards into rough brush, slip into alpine lichen, and then soar into pinnacles of ice and rock. You'll take them for granted, or at least I started to. It's sad, because I'm amazed at these places after looking at the photos I myself took.

There is a sense of awe deep inside of me that soaring mountains have always reached. They reach into me and pull out happiness. The sense of awe was blocked off. I could look up at the mountains and convince myself very soundly that I was looking at spectacular views, but not truly feel a bit of it.

I don't think I was in a place where I could go on an outdoor adventure. Too many pressing personal things to deal with; Too much that preoccupied my mind and distracted me from the outdoors.

The trip was priceless to see my parents while here, and for that the trip was worth it. But I'm a little sad: this trip didn't reinforce my love of travel and may have lessened it slightly. Perhaps I've over-invested my identity in the startup world. Perhaps I just need somewhere with new people to meet. New Zealand, especially the west coast, is spectacularly devoid of those.

I fly back to the US tomorrow, with many things up in the air.

BYOHelicopter: New Zealand's West Coast.

The drive to the west coast is spectacular. Wanaka is a very likeable, calmer version of Queenstown. There's not all that much to do around the town but perhaps wine tasting (the nearby hikes are unshaded and heavily tracked by sheep/horse dung). But the lake and beach make for a great leisurely day. A swim in the midday sun is good fun and far less cold than the glacial-melt streams I've been jumping in recently.

Campervan'ing is allright, though holiday parks seem to cost about $20 per night and backpackers cost about $25, and that means a bed and shower/kitchen (shared). You can stay for free at DOC campsites that are about 15k outside Fox and Franz Josef townships, but they have a suggested $6/night. All prices per person. The campervan isn't particularly comfortable for the longer legs, either. A car+hostels seems to be the better option. 

The activities consist of hiking, eating/cafes, or helicopter flights, which means the options are hiking or eating/cafes unless you're willing to pay rates that are probably more expensive than a fancy prostitute for the helicopters. And the hikes are either short or very long, spending most of your time in the jungle.

The jungle is fascinating and teeming with plant life, but when a 7 hour roundtrip hike with great views of the top is spent 90% in lush trees/brush while climbing steeply, the view payoff is a little strained: You're sweaty and hot and have been looking at the same trees for 3 hours. And then you get to go straight back down them. This is the Alex Knob hike at Franz Josef. Climbs 1.3km vertical for the views. 

Most of the west coast is wilderness that's nigh-inaccessible due to the density of the jungle. It's beautiful, but quite limited except by air travel. Of course, your experience may differ. 

There are heli/plane tours that fly you by the Fox Glacier, Mt Cook, Tasman Glacier, Mt Tasman, and Franz Josef Glacier all on the same trip. They really are that close together! All within about 30k, even though driving from one side to the other is a 450k drive. I made a map to show, click here to see it

Hoofing it to Mueller Hut.

Originally uploaded by Ben Mathes
After a brief day hike, we spent the night in a hostel and then headed up a brutal climb to Mueller Hut.

In the heat of the day, we went basically straight up for 3 hours. 1.8k steps followed by an equal distance of loose rock. Very, very hard work and it was outside the comfort range of my mom, though she pushed through it and enjoyed the views at the top.

Picking trips that satisfy all 3 of us (mom/dad/me) is proving quite difficult.

We met quite a few interesting folk at the hut, as one always does. A group of Chechs and Slovaks that brought along some homemade cherry vodka, a delightful two-year old named Danny that ran around the mess hall making friends with everyone, a group of ex-israeli military, some high-schoolers, and us.

The hike back down was just as brutal. I really wish it was twice as long and twice as flat. Straight up and down makes you feel like you're not making very much progress at all.

Mt Cook!

Originally uploaded by Ben Mathes
After a few hours in the car heading over from Christchurch, we went for a day hike up towards the bast of Mount Cook, though nowhere near the real ascent. Everything here is immense. The elevation isn't all that high, but with the latitude and scale, it's all quite impressive and severe.

I talked with a hut warden who said lots of guides from the Himalayas say the mountaineering here is more dangerous, with more things to go wrong: Longer approaches spent in avalanche routes, longer ascents, severe weather adjustments, etc.

The glaciers here are shrinking. Severely. All the information posts along the trail and official maps show the end of glaciers miles further along than they were when we saw them. On the plus side, this means lots of avalanches from the glaciers that sit atop high cliffs. You'll hear what seems to be thunder from across the valley and turn to see huge chunks of ice and snow cascade down cliffs. We saw about 3 or 4 a day. Quite impressive!

Day One.

After that lovely interlude in Melbourne I landed in Christcurch and the real adventure begins. Side note: if you have an insanely-long flight with multiple stops, try to have one layover take so long you can get out of the airport and do something. Assuming you have the time, of course.

I got into Christchurch at midnight, about 40 hours after leaving San Francisco, and >2 calendar days later thanks to the international date line. And since we're so far south the sun rises at 5am and sets at 10pm. I am subtly unnerved by it all. My parents picked me up at the airport and my luggage arrived without a hitch, which is damn-well should with 4hr and 9hr layovers.

We crashed one night in Christchurch and got up the next morning and drove over to Mt. Cook. The landscape changed significantly over an hour or two when we turned in from the coastal plains.