The Utility of Making Lists

“A key productivity hack that really works wonders in our fast-paced, modern era, which involves both discipline and consistency is to make a list. It is also an excellent habit to build upon and one that only requires your laptop and a ‘notes’ application or just a simple pen and piece of paper.”

A key productivity hack that really works wonders in our fast-paced, modern era, which involves both discipline and consistency is to make a list. It is also an excellent habit to build upon and one that only requires your laptop and a ‘notes’ application or just a simple pen and piece of paper. Lists have a reputation of being tedious and time-consuming, but what is actually more time-consuming is spending minutes or even hours trying to remind yourself what tasks or items you actually have to do.

List making is a good habit to build upon for a number of reasons. You hold yourself accountable and there is no shirking away from what you have set for yourself. The biggest misconception when it comes to lists is that they are all the same and focused on a to-do list. You can make lists for other reasons ranging from your progress at the gym with different weights you’ve lifted and what you hope to accomplish next to your future goals in life and what you hope to do in your ‘bucket list.’ Lists not only involve things you have to do whether its grocery shopping, what bills you have to pay, or what errands you have to run but also what career / business goals you have, what your exercise regimen looks like or where you hope to travel to in terms of next destinations.

Making lists is part of exercising that daily discipline that you need to have in order to put yourself on a path to success. It’s easier to accomplish your goals or your tasks when you remember what they are. You may have an amazing memory and feel you don’t need to have any lists at all but having that reminder especially if you have a due date for a pending school assignment or a work task can really help you especially if your memory fails you, which is always possible.

The impact of technology in our lives has made our attention spans that much more limited or distracted so I believe that the utility of lists has increased in response. There are many more things on our plate that we have to pay attention to that we may not have time to remember them all. Lists can help us organize these tasks from most urgent to least urgent and give us some peace of mind since you would likely have these lists stored in a place such as in an application on a computer or in a folder if you’re more traditional with pen and paper.

Not only do lists help to organize our lives, our goals, and our tasks, but lists also hold us accountable just by the fact that they make clear what you have done or what you have not done. There is no arguing with a list because you have either done it or not done it. You can indicate in a list your progress towards the goal or the task but it’s better to simplify it to be blunt to ask of you whether the item is completed or not. If it isn’t done yet, you can go back to it to see how much you have left to do, whether it’s been started yet, or how much you have left to finish. That kind of blunt accountability, which can be lacking in our society, is going to be staring you right in the face, so there is really no hiding from a list because it does not sugarcoat anything or try to come up with an excuse.

I also would like to point out that making too many lists can hinder you from achieving all you would like to get done each day, each week, or beyond. You should be careful not to make too many lists or have too many notes where you start to forget what actually is most vital to get done. I would recommend instead to make one list only for a specific part of your life such as one for exercise, one for work, one for business, one for errands, and perhaps one for future goals. That’s five lists right there on a specific subject so not to become too cluttered or difficult to implement. Lists can help you out a lot up to a point but can become burdensome when you have a dozen lists for ten different parts of your life.

In any list you make, focus on a main goal you wish to achieve for the day and then start to branch out to include weekly tasks and then long-term goals that may take months. Organizing an individual list around immediate, medium-term, and long-term tasks is an effective way to stay on top of each part of your life that will need attention. Having five lists, for example, can be helpful too where you might start the day looking at your exercise task(s) to complete, then move on to work/school, then see about errands, and then see what future goals you are working towards that you can start on. Organizing lists is about as important as making lists to begin with and it’s very important not to make too many lists where you feel like you can’t keep track of them all or have too long of a list where it distracts from your other lists that you’re working on.

You may be thinking to yourself right now, why do you care about making lists so much and why have lists at all? Having list(s) is about building structure in one’s life. You can create good habits from following your lists and you can organize your life in a meaningful and productive way. Also, you alone can hold yourself accountable with lists as it’s only you who knows about the list and is responsible for completing the goals and the tasks that you set up for yourself. No one else is going to hold your hand so it’s up to you alone to be reliable, responsible, and solely in charge of ultimately crossing those important items off your list(s) to help make your life a better, happier, and healthier one.

The Whiskey Philosopher

“In a year of ‘red lights’, it’s been both enlightening and refreshing to read a book by a man who has spent his first fifty years on the planet chasing ‘greenlights.’ That phrase of catching ‘greenlights’ is also the formal title of Matthew McConaughey’s memoir / autobiography / personal growth tale that quickly draws the reader in.”

In a year of ‘red lights’, it’s been both enlightening and refreshing to read a book by a man who has spent his first fifty years on the planet chasing ‘greenlights.’ That phrase of catching ‘greenlights’ is also the formal title of Matthew McConaughey’s memoir / autobiography / personal growth tale that quickly draws the reader in. I first heard about Mr. McConaughey’s book when he appeared on the ‘Joe Rogan Experience’, Joe Rogan’s popular podcast. Mr. Rogan coined the book as being ‘whiskey philosophy’ with McConaughey being the philosopher over a glass of whiskey.

I found this metaphor to be quite fitting for the book ‘greenlights’ as the author talks about his life foremost as an observer and a reflector who is able to take a step back and analyze his decisions, his perspectives, and his overall views on his life and how he got to be who he is today. You immediately feel comfortable with McConaughey’s narrative and his ability to tell stories like you were sitting with an old friend over a fire pit drinking whiskey and regaling each other with both good times and bad. Throughout the book, you feel welcomed in and embraced as if you were right there with Matthew having a chat.

What I do love most about ‘Greenlights’ is the raw honesty and the ability to peer into a life like his, which I would argue is different from your average celebrity. Instead of obsessing over the glitz and glamour of being famous in Hollywood, you spend more time with McConaughey in different places around the world. I, for one, did not know that he was an avid traveler ever since he took a gap year in high school to go to Australia on an exchange program. He has often felt the call to go out in the wild, to be secluded from others, and to meet new people along the way.

Surprisingly, the book takes us from the Chihuahua Desert of West Texas to the autobahns of Germany to the jungles of the Peruvian Amazon and across the ocean to the small villages of Mali. One story of Matthew’s that stood out in particular was his wrestling match with a local Malian villager who challenges him as the only white man who has shown up as a guest to wrestle together. It’s not clear to the reader who wins the match, but it doesn’t matter to the village who sees Matthew wrestle. What is most important to them is that he accepted the challenge and not about who won or who lost.

I find that this particular story resonates across Matthew’s life so far and his willingness to put himself out there. Whether it’s going up to ask the woman he eventually marries if he can make her a margarita to seeking his permission from his father to go into acting as long as he doesn’t ‘half-ass it’ to keeping his promise to become a father because that was the most important thing for him to do in life, McConaughey is always willing to accept a challenge and embrace the possibility of failure. His ten guiding goals of what he wanted out of his life back in 1992 when he begun to keep a journal and of which he details in the book of what they were shows the readers how he may have taken a few detours but was able to stay true to his values and his desires even though he’s still working on a few of them.

His main goals of being a father, meeting the woman who was best for him on Earth, putting family first, and even winning a Best Actor award did not happen automatically and he had to run through a number of ‘red lights’ in order to get his ‘greenlights’ eventually. While ‘red lights’ would dissuade a lot of people to keep pushing such as being placed in romcoms for over ten years like Matthew was or perhaps having a falling out with his mother due to his having children out of wedlock, these ‘red lights’ did not discourage him from staying committed to who he was as an actor and as a person.

I think the main message of ‘greenlights’ is to not let the inevitable ‘red lights’ stop you from pursuing your goals and once you see an opportunity, you have to run with it and work hard to turn those lights green. Another particular example from the book that stood out to me was Matthew’s insight to playing Ron Woodroof in the acclaimed film, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, an immensely emotional role, which led McConaughey to win the Best Actor award for his performance. The role itself wasn’t probably the highest paying role for an actor nor was it going to be a huge box office hit like his previous romcoms.

I believe Matthew took the role because how moving the personal story of Woodroof was and how he was moved to tears talking to Ron’s family and learning about his life through Ron’s own personal journals. While the actor and the man portrayed are very different, they are both native Texans and avid journal keepers. Matthew details his intense diet of losing up to 50 pounds to play the role in the movie and how he had to put himself in the mind of a man quietly dying from the horrific AIDS virus, which was stigmatized at the time. Even if they had to do the film over-budget, it was being made because Matthew, like all good actors, knows a good passion project when he finds one and puts all of his effort into acting the role to make the film as good as it can be. In this case, he won the Best Actor award and made his father proud who tells him the book to not ‘half-ass it’ and those words of encouragement stuck with Matthew.

In addition to seeing Matthew’s life play out since he was a child growing up in Texas, you get to see his really well-written poems, notes, anecdotes, and short stories, which really do convey an intuitive wisdom to them. From discussing love to pleasure to pain to truth to meaning, these poems scattered throughout the book are refreshing to read and relate to his life as a whole. His scribbles, notes, and recollection of different events in life is quite impressive. I do believe even more so after reading ‘Greenlights’ how I should start keeping my own journal for the long-term. Matthew was successfully able to turn his journal full of notes, memories, poems, and stories in a really good book about self-discovery, personal growth, the stages of life from childhood through adulthood, and one’s journey in seeking out ‘greenlights’ even when they can be few and far between as they have been for many of us throughout 2020.

At 285 pages, this is a great memoir and autobiography that doesn’t feel like its length. It is very much an easy page turner that doesn’t feel forced or slow-going. It really grips you for the ride and McConaughey’s life has been full of adventures, events, and precious memories up to year 50 where the book concludes. My only suggestion for improving the book or adding on to it in the future is to really focus more on the ‘red lights’ that happened in the author’s life and what specifically did he learn from those lean times as someone struggling as an actor or having family troubles or being tired of singledom.

I would be curious to learn more from Matthew about what advice he would give to someone during those ‘red lights’ times and how to make the most of them or how to best turn them green in the future. I did find that part to be missing from ‘Greenlights’ a bit too much as the ‘greenlights’ got a lot of the book space whereas I think it’s the ‘red lights’ in life that cause us to reflect more, learn more about who we are, and challenge us to be more creative in overcoming adversity.

In conclusion, ‘Greenlights’ by Matthew McConaughey is one of the best books of 2020. It is an engaging, emotional, and insightful look into a man’s life who has been one of the most important actors and entertainers of the past few decades. You learn a lot more about who Matthew is, what drives him, what’s important to him, how he views family, friends, his career, and what truly matters in life. I enjoy his whiskey philosophy and if I happened to be hanging out in Texas with anyone such as having a stiff drink and swapping stories together, it would be with Matthew McConaughey.

Taughannock Falls

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Taughannock Falls State Park; Ithaca, New York

Cornell Botanical Gardens

Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Cornell University; Ithaca, New York

Book Recommendations – Volume XI

“There’s nothing better than sitting under your favorite tree in a backyard or out on the balcony with the sun in your face reading an engaging and enlightening book. As I have mentioned previously, Summer is the best season for reading and since a lot of other summer activities are postponed or cancelled, why not catch up on some reading?”

There’s nothing better than sitting under your favorite tree in a backyard or out on the balcony with the sun in your face reading an engaging and enlightening book. As I have mentioned previously, Summer is the best season for reading and since a lot of other summer activities are postponed or cancelled, why not catch up on some reading? Regardless if the book is fiction or non-fiction, spending a few hours each day reading a good book can make the time pass by quicker and get rid of any kind of twiddle-your-thumbs moments that can happen when you don’t have a movie, concert, or sporting event to distract you. While live events may be out of order this summer, your bookshelf is dying to have you open up a book, sit down on your favorite couch or chair, and let your mind wander to an imaginary or a real place to pass the time.

  1. The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and The Case for Its Renewal by William J. Burns

William J. Burns might be one of the best diplomats the United States has ever had. With over thirty years of experience and having served in two of the most important regions of the world, Mr. Burns’s story is an example of the good that diplomatic efforts can do in resolving conflicts, promoting peace, and ensuring cooperation among both allies and adversaries. He is one of only two career diplomats to have ever earned the title of ‘Deputy Secretary of State’ and he gave advice and counsel to five U.S. Presidents and ten Secretaries of State.

Mr. Burns’s storied career includes Ambassadorships to both Jordan and Russia and he held numerous Assistant Secretary positions within the State Department during his three-decade tenure. He was partly responsible for ceasefire agreements between the Israelis and the Palestinians, for helping to eliminate Libya’s nuclear weapons program, and for helping to reset U.S. relations with Russia in the early 2010s. He also shares insights in this book that were previously not publicly known involving his views on the Iraq War, the Civil War in Syria, and of the Russian aggression against Ukraine at the end of his tenure.

This 400+ page memoir is simply a must-read for anyone interested in how diplomacy works and how vital it is to maintain within a government’s foreign policy. In a time now where it has been underinvested and mismanaged, Burns’s book illuminates how big of a difference it can make and how one man’s impact can be felt throughout an entire foreign policy apparatus due to his vigorous study of culture, languages, and history in order for him to be taken seriously. The book is not only educational but is also gripping in terms of his recall of major events throughout his diplomatic career as well as the written cables that explain them. It is a real page turner and should be required reading for any student of international relations and who hopes to become a diplomat in their own future career.

2. On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey by Paul Theroux

Cooperation, friendship, and understanding is important among friends, but it is even more important among your neighbors. The US-Mexico relationship has been fraught with mistrust and tension especially during the years of the Trump administration. The best way to do away with stereotypes and misgivings about each other is to visit the lesser known places of a country and visit the non-touristy areas. Paul Theroux may be the best living American travel writer today.

From his experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi in the 1970s to his trek in the American Deep South, Paul Theroux has traveled around the world over five decades and counting. His latest novel about his travels in Mexico is a must-read for Americans and anyone else looking to understand Mexico from an outside lens. While not an exhaustive take on the complex country and its people, Theroux’s book, somewhat observant and otherwise felt like you’re in the middle of his travels is both illuminating and powerful.

Paul Theroux is really a true traveler and even though this is the first of his travel novels that I have read, this one felt very timely as it was released in 2019 during a time of souring relations between the two North American neighbors. Theroux spares no miles or kilometers in seeing all of Mexico that he can. From the desert Region of Sonora in the North to the Mexico mundo of Mexico City to the Southeast of the country where he visits the Zapatistas, this is an extremely educational look at modern Mexico.

Theroux’s book highlights the issues that Mexico is going through from immigration from the Northern Triangle to the ever-present threat of the drug cartels to the hopes of Mexico’s indigenous populations who believe that they have been left behind as other villages and towns hollowed out while the economic gains went elsewhere. It’s not just the issues that Theroux shines a lens on but also the beauty of the country’s culture and its warm people. As an elderly traveler, Theroux is treated with great respect and even reverence as ‘Don Pablo.’

He is welcomed as a guest, kept safe by complete strangers, and invited to interview Mexicans who normally would not talk to foreign travelers. Theroux travels all the way from Massachusetts across the border where few Americans are found to cross. He does so in his own car on his own dime and does not travel with any security or any kind of companionship. He learns Spanish and teaches writing to Mexican students. He is a refreshing kind of traveler, one who remembers to show people through a human lens and to not deal with harmful stereotypes.

Overall, ‘On the Plain of Snakes’ is an excellent travel novel for anyone interested in learning more about Mexico’s people, its culture, its struggles, and its hopes for a better future.

3. Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire Our World by Michele J. Gelfand

This book has been my favorite one of 2020 and I only heard of it through a weekly David Brooks column in The New York Times Opinion section. The differences and similarities between cultures and societies is a topic that has fascinated me for years. As someone who has lived in both loose and tight countries as Mrs. Gelfand so brilliantly classifies, it is fascinating to see her extensive research come into fruition and how these loose and tight countries affect our outlook on everything from celebrations to driving to health care to tattoos.

Tight countries are cultures where norms are preserved and breaking them is frowned upon. Societal cohesion is encouraged and straying from norms is open to punishment. Loose countries are cultures where norms are often broken and breaking them usually comes with a shrug or a lack of care. Why do Germans always stop at a red light even when its 3 AM? Why do Brazilian clocks never run on time? Why do Japanese trains always run on time? Why do Singaporean laws ban gum from being chewed?

These tight and loose differences do not just extend to countries but also to states, cities, organizations, businesses and even within us. This book of ‘tight and loose’ norms highlights how we feel about any subject and how that is reflected in how we act with others. There is no right or wrong answer as to whether living in a tight culture is better or if living in a loose culture is better. Mrs. Gelfand excellently points out in each chapter how they both have their advantages and disadvantages depending upon the norm being considered.

Our upbringing, our environment, our country’s history, etc. all have effects on how ‘tight’ a culture is or how ‘loose’ a culture is. There can also be changes to a culture depending if there are big events like a terrorist attack, a pandemic, a natural disaster, etc. Cultures can tighten or loosen depending upon what is going on in the country and how people are being affected by these natural or manmade shifts to our lives.

Having seen both ‘tight cultures’ and ‘loose cultures’ up close and personal, this book has been a revelation to me in terms of explaining what I thought about only in my theories that I concocted after traveling from country to country but never really expressing it as well as she has in this great book. Mrs. Gelfand has done extensive research across many countries and continents to explain why some countries have more ‘rule makers’ and why other countries have ‘rule breakers.’ In order for our own cultures to shift from one spectrum to the other, we have to first understand why the country’s culture is the way it is and if it can shift, what benefits are there to tightening up or loosening up depending on what is going on in our lives and in our society at the time?

The Art of an Apology

“One thing I have noticed recently is that some people have a hard time giving a simple apology when they mess up, are rude to others, or don’t have the emotional intelligence to realize when they were in the wrong about something. Now, this is not a good habit to develop as an adult and one that makes you appear to be childish more so than any other negative trait that you could display.”

One thing I have noticed recently is that some people have a hard time giving a simple apology when they mess up, are rude to others, or don’t have the emotional intelligence to realize when they were in the wrong about something. Now, this is not a good habit to develop as an adult and one that makes you appear to be childish more so than any other negative trait that you could display. Learning how to apologize is done when we are children and our parents tell us to always ‘say sorry’ and to learn to be nice to others.

‘Sorry’ is one of the golden words we learn are key to our day-to-day lives. It doesn’t take much to do and will cost you nothing. The fact that many adults don’t know how to do this today in our society is a worrisome sign of how personal relations have decayed compared to previous times. Some people choose to dance around the offense and not acknowledge it while others refuse to take responsibility for their actions which leads to the person who was offended feeling aggrieved and holding a grudge against that person for longer than they should need to.

The old adage of ‘you forgive but you don’t forget’ is not a pretty one but if there is no apology from that person who committed the offense, the other person may learn to forgive them but they will not forget that there was no apology rendered from the other person. I do not endorse holding a long-lasting grudge against other people but being rude, saying bad things about others, and overall not being a respectful person will cause you to lose many different relationships with others. Most adults do not know want to associate with somebody who refuses to apologize or does not take responsibility for their actions.

I believe that with social media and how often we do not see the other person’s face and their body language that we feel comfortable getting away with rude behavior and it has led to that kind of behavior spilling over into real life interactions. A lack of an apology can be due to a person’s own narcissistic nature and to think that the rules like the ‘golden rule’ don’t apply to them and that they can ever do no wrong including causing harm or offense to other people.

The sign of a true mature adult is one who apologize and does so in a sincere manner. It is a heartfelt apology and is usually more than just a simple ‘sorry’ and then move on. If someone cannot even say ‘sorry’ or realize the hurt that they have caused, then they still have a lot of growing up to do and act more like a child or a teenager in an adult’s body than an adult themselves. The sad thing to see in society is when a 45 year old acts like a 15 year old or when a 75 year old acts like a 5 year old, which is often as the result of them not registering other people’s emotions or feelings, and thinking reflectively about their behavior, their tone of voice, and how their language was inappropriate.

The art of an apology is not as simple as it can be made out to be with just a quick ‘sorry’. Often in life, a simple ‘sorry’ does not cut it. I think it’s better to follow these steps to having a legitimate and heartfelt apology that will make the other person feel better and try to restart the relationship or improve it rather than letting it fester and causing the other person to dwell on your insult.

1. Acknowledge You Were Wrong

The first step for any good apology is to acknowledge to someone face-to-face if you can or over phone or email if you can’t see that person that you were wrong. Whether it was something you said or something you did or that you hurt their feelings, acknowledge the thing that caused the original offense, state how it wasn’t right for you to do that, and apologize in that way beyond a quick ‘sorry’. It’s as direct as “I was wrong to…”, “It was not right for me to…”, “You deserve an apology for…”

2. Remember the Incident and What You Took from It

When you acknowledge what you did and that it was wrong, it makes the other person feel like you remembered that it was not the right thing for them to do and that pain was caused. It also means remembering that certain feelings were hurt and that the other person realizes they could have done things different / not said anything at all / or watched what they have said better. Saying ‘sorry’ or apologizing without saying what the ‘sorry’ is for is not a good way to do an apology because you have to be specific regarding what the apology is for and what you did wrong if you caused offense.

3. Be Sincere and Don’t Rush It

How you say an apology is often more important than what you say in the apology. If you are rushing through it, only saying a one-word apology, and not even looking at the person or acknowledging their presence while saying it, then that is not a real apology. A real apology must be congruent with your body language and your eye contact and your tone of voice all on the same page together. You should give that person your full attention and not be checking your phone, reading your email, or have your attention generally elsewhere while doing the apology.

Also, not rushing it means it’s going to take more than a five second ‘sorry’ and move on, if you follow the previous two steps, a good apology will take as long as it needs to which could be anywhere from a minute to ten minutes depending upon what the other person has to say. Depending on the severity of the negative action, you want to give that person a chance to respond, to accept your apology, and to decide how your relationship with them is going to move forward. You cannot force an apology to move forward without the other person agreeing to it so make sure you are patient, forthcoming, and open to listening to what they have to say to you.

4. Be Open to a Change in the Relationship

Even with an apology, sometimes, that person is going to want to take a break from seeing you, hanging out with you, or being around. It can be hard to bring that relationship back to what it was when harsh words are exchanged or when negative actions happened between two people to cause the strife. You have to understand and accept what the other person does because they may not want to trust you again as much or recognize that you aren’t the person who they thought you were.

This may be a hard pill to swallow but you are likely going to have to spend some time away from that person, let them forgive you on their own timetable, and they will set the terms on if they see you again or not. It is possible they may never fully get over what you did and not want to be around you again at all. This is a harsh truth to face for most people but the least you can do is apologize and try to move on.

If that person chooses to accept your apology but not go out of their way to see you again then that is their right to do so and it is up to them how they want to conduct their interactions with you moving forward. As adults, people want to spend time with those people who treat them well, respect them, and are emotionally mature. If you can’t do that, it’s going to be tough to have friends or to be around other family members.

I write this article because too often today I have seen other adults refuse to apologize for being in the wrong and this can cascade throughout the rest of our society. There is a fundamental lack of accountability and also responsibility that starts with a failure to apologize sincerely. It takes real wisdom and maturity to apologize to someone, but it is necessary since we are all flawed and make mistakes.

A true adult owns up to these mistakes they made, apologizes for them to seek forgiveness, and accepts what the other person does in response without any future expectations on how the relationship can move forward. It begins with saying ‘you’re sorry’ but it does not end there and a good apology is more than saying ‘sorry.’ It means acknowledging what you did was wrong, being sincere about it, listening to the other person, and being open to a change in the relationship based on how they want to move forward with you in the future. That is the true art of an apology and one that I hope you will follow in your own life.

Museum of Tomorrow (Museo do Amanhã)

Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Museum of Tomorrow; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio from the Water

Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

See the Stars

“If you are going through troubles in your life, I believe it can be comforting to see the stars not only to realize that while our problems are serious and need to be dealt with, it is also good to realize the beauty in things and nothing is perhaps more beautiful than a clear, night sky where you can see the constellations, the full moon, and even a shooting star if you are lucky.”

One nightly ritual that should make a comeback is to see the stars. A simple yet effective way to remember our place in the universe and how small we really are when it comes to the cosmos. If you are going through troubles in your life, I believe it can be comforting to see the stars not only to realize that while our problems are serious and need to be dealt with, it is also good to realize the beauty in things and nothing is perhaps more beautiful than a clear, night sky where you can see the constellations, the full moon, and even a shooting star if you are lucky.

While not likely under the traditional definition for a ‘meditation experience’, I think that you can definitely get lost in your own thoughts or perhaps stop thinking for a while as you concentrate on the brightest stars or the allure of the full moon. Instead of thinking about your problems and your worries, you can try to map the ‘Big Dipper’ or ‘Orion’s Belt’, which can be a fun activity not just for you but for your loved one as well.

In our modern, fast-paced world, it is increasingly difficult to find places or open spaces where light pollution has not clouded the stars or has kept us from fully appreciating the sheer number of stars, galaxies, and planets out there in the universe. If you live in a major city or even a big town, light pollution as well as other forms of pollution have likely kept you from appreciating the stars in their full capacity. I honestly believe that shutting off the city lights or the town’s lights for just a few minutes for some simple star gazing would ease a lot of people’s anxieties, stresses, and worries as they look to the heavens to see the possibilities of what lies beyond humanity’s reach.

In my opinion, looking at the stars is more humbling than scary, more illuminating than disturbing, and more beautiful than dark. A clear sky on a full night is a precious gift and one for which we should all appreciate in those little moments of peace that we can make for ourselves in our daily lives. Not only is it healthy for you to relax, to grab a chair, and even make a snack over the fireplace while you appreciate the stars above, it’s a great way to bond with your family and your friends.

Sadly, you may need to take a vacation to a rural country home or to a mountain chalet in order to be able to immerse yourself in stargazing. Most of us around the world live in densely populated communities and cities where finding the stars is as difficult sometimes as finding the sky during the day due to the various forms of pollution. However, it’s good in general to go to quiet spots from time to time where the air is fresh, the water is clean to drink, and the stars are bright to enjoy nature in its fullest.

From open country fields to the mountain tops, there are still places out there in the world that are isolated from civilization and where you can really appreciate the stars at night. It may take effort and money to do so but it’s worth it to be introspective and to think about what could be out there, what it could be like to explore those different planets that may be habitable to man, and how cool it would be to be up in space where gravity is non-existent and where you can see how small and unique our little blue planet really is.

One tip that you should consider using to fully appreciate the stars is a really good telescope that can zoom in to see certain constellations and planets at a really high resolution and for which you can eventually become good at making a map over a week or a month of where they are located at in the night sky. Telescopes are the best tool for also seeing shooting stars or seeing what stage the moon is in during its monthly cycle. It can be a worthwhile investment if you live in a rural or unpopulated area where the night sky is always clear, and the stars are abundant to see.

Being able to appreciate the stars is a simple joy and one which is overlooked in a fast-paced world. However, I believe it is good for the soul and for our peace of mind. Looking at a full night sky has different meanings for different people but for me, it is reassuring. It’s nice to know what what we consider astronomical problems here on Earth are actually not that big in the grand scheme of the universe.

We should try to keep our small place in the universe in mind when we consider the scale of our own Earth-based problems. While it’s a definite fact that we must make our own planet more livable, freer, more just, and cleaner, we also have to acknowledge that we are most likely not alone in its great expanse. Our place in the universe and even in our own Milky Way galaxy is so tiny that we can’t help but appreciate what could lie beyond our planet and that maybe one day we will finally be able to find out what’s out there and to reach further for the stars than we did before to find out, once and for all, if we are truly alone in the universe and also what Earth-like planets would be there for us to discover and perhaps live on?  

English Corner – The Basics of Business

“However, as you get older and you advance in your career or your business pursuits, you may find it to your advantage to know the basics of business English. In addition to the vocabulary and the grammar, you need to be aware of the major steps before you can advance in your position.”

It is likely that you will want to improve your English for purely professional reasons at some point. If that’s not you, then this blog post will not apply to you. However, as you get older and you advance in your career or your business pursuits, you may find it to your advantage to know the basics of business English. In addition to the vocabulary and the grammar, you need to be aware of the major steps before you can advance in your position. I cover a number of these topics in both Business English private lessons and also in an online course specifically for this subject.

For this article, I am going to focus only on the basics of business English and how to get your foot in the door to give yourself a chance to either get hired, get promoted or at least feel more comfortable using your English skills in a professional setting. I am not going to make a huge list of items for you to accomplish but rather give five pieces of general advice for you to get started in this niche part of the language. If you can get these five tidbits down in terms of remembering and utilizing them, you should have no problem getting to the intermediate or advanced topics within the business English curriculum, which is covered in both private lessons and an online course.

Let’s start with the most obvious point and then become more and more obscure from point #1 to #5. Some of these points of advice will seem obvious to you and I hope that others will make you think of your own approach and how it could be improved. I believe you will find these five pieces of advice useful to get you started with Business English and to keep you learning these kinds of topics into the future.

  1. Network, Network, and Network Some More: Networking and connecting with others is the key place to start when it comes to getting started with developing your business English skills. Networking is the foundation for doing the most amount of business and it can take various forms. When you’re emailing, you’re networking. When you’re at an event meeting people and practicing your English, you’re networking. When you’re calling potential partners or future customers over the phone, that too is a form of networking.

The biggest skill you’ll need to develop and hone for the English-speaking business world will be to become a good networker in a non-native language. There is no better test for your speaking, writing, listening, and reading skills then to put yourself out there and network with others who are also English speakers, native or otherwise. Networking also takes a serious amount of effort so make sure you put in the time to practice whether it is for writing e-mails, developing your business cards, or remembering to show up for events.

2. Remember the Small Details: In business, you not only have to remember the big details whether its’ for a project, a trip, or a presentation but it’s even more important to be aware of the small details. Mastering the small, insignificant details can make the difference between a successful business deal or an absolute disaster. What are the small details? Well, they could be a number of things. I like to think of them as peoples’ names, technical details, the times and dates of meetings, and staying on top of your tasks each and every day.

Preventing yourself from slacking off or getting complacent falls under this category of remembering the small details. You may think that names, dates, or the technical details are not important but if you forget or you neglect them, something is likely to blow up in your face. You may also hurt someone’s feelings or cause someone else to feel overwhelmed when you make little mistakes. In business, even small issues can become big issues, so it is better to strive to be a perfectionist than to let the small things slide. It does not mean obsessing over every little thing, but it means treating every part of a task the same and not slack off when something does not interest you because it could mean you making more careless errors. The little details can also make you stand out in a good way when you remember them and earn you greater respect and comradery at your work when you don’t make those careless errors too.

3. Put in The Extra Time: Similar to the Art of Networking extensively when you are starting out in business, putting in overtime to network or to get some extra work done or to put more effort on a project can develop your business acumen a lot quicker. Being a reliable and hard worker on a team can make up for your lack of knowledge in certain areas of the target language like English. However, you should be willing to put in extra time to study and work on the English skills needed to develop your proficiency in business, regardless of what type of business vocabulary and grammar you need.

You will need more than just the normal eight or nine hours doing your job but to develop your English level for business, you’ll need to be studying and practicing an hour per night to get really good at the English needed for your career.For this practice, you will need to mix it up with speaking practice, writing for potential work projects, and listening to other native speakers and seeing if you understand what they are telling you. Extra time not just for your job but also for your business English needs will set you apart if you are willing to put the effort in on a consistent basis over weeks or months in order to move ahead in your career.

4. Mastering Pleasantries: No business can be done without the correct way of speaking to both colleagues, potential partners and your superiors. You have to know how to talk to and interact with each type of person in your office or in your company. This involves studying pleasantries and the different vocabulary words that these conversations involve. There are different formalities and informalities involved when you’re talking with others professional depending on who they are. How you talk to your boss is different to how you talk to your intern who is in college.

Being proficient in business English means being able to have both productive and appropriate conversations with people from the higher ups to the new folks who just arrived. Greetings and goodbyes as well as making small talk are all important aspects of successfully doing business. Any good businessperson also is well versed in cross-cultural communication especially through the medium of a global language like English. Most of business is done over lunch, dinner, or an adult beverage.In order to have productive conversations, it starts with knowing how to address people in your own company and in other companies. It all starts with mastering pleasantries and then you can keep practicing mastering the entire conversation later on.

5. Know Who You Are (Background and Experience): Before you can begin to write about yourself let alone develop your professional resume (CV) and cover letter, you have to be able to know who you are. Knowing who are you means knowing how to write about yourself without bragging too much or boasting of things you did not do. You have to be aware of both your strengths and your weaknesses. You also should know what your skills are and what you still need to learn about. This trait of business involves having self-awareness and giving a fairly accurate perception of who you are professionally to other people.

Before you develop a resume, a cover letter, or even a short writing sample, it’s important that you firstly recounter your professional background up to this point where you start writing out everything in English. You’ll need to be aware of how to tie all of your professional experiences together, come up with a longer ‘pitch’ of what you bring to the table and how a company or business would benefit from you being there. Lastly, it’s key to brainstorm about your experiences, your career goals, and what your professional profile would be before you start putting pen to paper. This fifth basic trait may be the hardest to pull off but if you are to become comfortable using English for business purposes, you need to know who you are as a professional and about what you offer before you start jotting it all down.

These five basics of business for English may seem untraditional but you have to know how to walk before you can run, or you have to know how to network before you can sign the big deal for your firm. Your English skills for business have to master pleasantries, networking, and brainstorming before you can master presentations, deal making, or writing a formal cover letter. Taking these five basics seriously and getting them down first will not only make you a better English learner but you’ll also generally become a better businessman or businesswoman for having taken these bits of advice into consideration and acting on them to improve professional.

Once you have the basics down, let me know if you would be interested in a private Business English lesson or in enrolling in a Business English course to take your language skills in this area to a higher level. The sooner that you get started, the quicker you can advance in your career pursuits!