Dictator

To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?

  • Cicero, 46 BC

I enjoy reading history and biographies tremendously. However, never was I able to articulate what Cicero said above about the pleasure and rationale of doing so. This is one of the key benefits of reading, to be in the company of the great men from history, see their actions, hear their speeches and feel the inspiration. At the very least, let their words express our vague thoughts.

Dictator is the last one of the Cicero trilogy written by Robert Harris. It brings us back to an era when perhaps the most epic events of Roman history took place. Roman Republic was crumbling, the First Triumvirate of Julius Caesar, Pompey the Great, and Marcus Licinius Crassus fell apart when Crassus was killed in battle against the Parthians. As Cicero envisioned, with the death of Crassus, the imbalance of power between Pompey and Caesar would cause great turmoil. Indeed, the civil war was broken, with Pompey murdered by the Egyptians during his retreat, who were eager to please the winning side. Caesar became the dictator of the Roman Republic, and was subsequently assassinated as a result of a conspiracy among several Roman senators, not including Cicero. However, as pleased as Cicero was with Caesar’s death, he also feared for the future of Roman Republic. The conspirators were not able to restore that, despite the great efforts from Cicero’s part throughout the book. Further civil wars were pressing resulted from the assassination among Brutus, Octavian, Mark Antony and others.

With a great amount of mentoring and advocacy in the Senator from Cicero, Octavian, the sole heir of Caesar and still a teenager, substantially grew his influence. At the end he betrayed Cicero and proscribed him on the death list, allegedly yielding to Mark Antony’s demand. Cicero’s head and hands were cut off and put on display in Rome to warn anyone who might oppose the new Triumvirate (Octavian, Mark Antony and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus). Not too long afterwards, Antony committed suicide after being defeated by Octavian who later became the Emperor Augustus.

Robert Harris ended the book with Tiro’s voice, thinking of Scipio’s dream of where dead statesmen dwell in on the Republic:

I gazed in every direction and all appeared wonderfully beautiful. There were stars which we never see from earth, and they were all larger than we have ever imagined. The starry spheres were much greater than the earth; indeed the earth itself seemed to me so small that I was scornful of our empire, which covers only a single point, as it were, upon its surface.

“If only you will look on high,” the old statesmen tells Scipio, “and contemplate this eternal home and resting place, you will no longer bother with the gossip of the common herd or put your trust in human reward for your exploits. Nor will any man’s reputation endure very long, for what men say dies with them and is blotted out with the forgetfulness of posterity.”

All that will remain of us is what is written down.

To finish the article here would not do Robert Harris, Cicero and Tiro any justice. It is during the years covered in Dictator that Cicero wrote his many books and articles. Tiro assembled Cicero’s large volume of correspondences and carefully made three copies to be kept for future generations. I do not know how many of those survived but certainly I am very earnest to find out and read Cicero’s own writings.

Here are some extracts from the book with brief annotations from me. A few are in Tiro’s words, many others are excerpts from the speeches that Cicero gave to the Senate or Roman public:

We none of us needs to be reminded of the frightful violence that gripped the city yesterday – violence which has at its core a shortage of that most basic of human needs, bread. Some of us believe it was an ill day when our citizens were granted a free dole of corn in the first place, for it is human nature that what starts as gratitude quickly becomes dependency and ends as entitlement.

Had I experienced nothing but an unruffled tranquility, I should have missed the incredible and well-nigh superhuman transports of delight which your kindness now permits me to enjoy.

Partially thanking Pompey for ensuring his return to Rome, Cicero flattered Pompey to the public: Here is a man who has had, has, and will have, no rival in virtue, sagacity and renown. He gave to me all that he had given to the republic, what no other has ever given to a private friend – safety, security, dignity. To him, fellow citizens, I owe a debt such as it is scarce lawful for one human being to owe to another. Tiro noted that Pompey’s beam of pleasure was as wide and warm as the sun.

On that occasion Pompey had pretended to be out to avoid seeing Cicero. The memory of his cowardice still rankled with me, but Cicero refused to dwell on it: “If I do, I shall become bitter, and a man who is bitter hurts no one but himself. We must look to the future.”

He (Cicero) seemed once again to hold all the threads of life in his hands, just as he had in his prime.

The arguments Cicero put forth in defending Rufus that shamed Clodia such that she resigned from the Roman public life forever: I am now forgetting, Clodia, the wrongs you have done me; I am putting aside the memory of what I have suffered; I pass over your cruel actions towards my family during my absence; but I ask you this: if a woman without a husband open her house to all men’s desires, and publicly leads the life of a courtesan; if she is in the habit of attending dinner parties with men who are perfect strangers; if she does this in Rome, in her park outside the city walls, and amid all those crowds on the Bay of Naples, if her embraces and caresses, her beach parties, her water parties, her dinner parties, proclaim her to be not only a courtesan, but also a shameless and wanton courtesan – if she does all that and a young man should be discovered consorting with this woman, should he be considered the corrupter or the corrupted, the seducer or the seduced? This whole charge arises from a hostile, infamous, merciless, crime-stained, lust-stained house. An unstable and angry wanton of a woman has forged this accusation. Gentlemen of the jury: do not allow Marcus Caelius Rufus to be sacrificed to her lust. If you restore Rufus in safety to me, to his family, to the state, you will find in him one pledged, devoted and bound to you and to your children; and it is you above all, gentlemen, who will reap the rich and lasting fruits of all his exertions and labours.

Complaining about the rules of a contest is always a sure sign of a man who knows he is about to lose it.

Just as the purpose of a pilot is to ensure a smooth passage for his ship, and of a doctor to make his patient healthy, so the statesman’s objective must be the happiness of his country.

I dreaded the prospect of coming, naturally, but when I arrived it was not so bad. One deals with grief, I have come to believe, either by never thinking of it or by thinking of it all the time. I chose the latter path, and here at least I am surrounded by memories of her, and her ashes are interred in the garden. Friends have been very kind, especially those who have suffered similar losses.

Sulpicius wrote to Cicero: How can we manikins wax indignant if one of us dies or is killed, ephemeral creatures as we are, when the corpses of so many towns lie abandoned in a single spot? Check yourself, Servius, and remember that you were born a mortal man.

What a lot of trouble one avoids if one refuses to have anything to do with the common herd! To have no job, to devote one’s time to literature, is the most wonderful thing in the world.

When falls on man the anger of the gods, First from his mind they banish understanding.

I arrived expecting to be torn to pieces and instead I find myself drowning in honey.

“People of Rome,” he (Cicero) said at last, gesturing to quiet the ovation, “after the agony and violence not just of the last few days but of the last few years, let past grievances and bitterness be set aside.” Just at that moment a shaft of sunlight pierced the clouds, gilding the bronze roof of Jupiter’s temple on the Capitol, where the white togas of the conspirators were plainly visible. “Behold the sun of Liberty,” cried Cicero, seizing the moment, “shining once again over the Roman Forum! Let is warm us – let it warm the whole of humanity – with the beneficence of its healing rays.”

Cicero wrote to Atticus, describing moving into a property: I have put out my books and now my house has a soul.

Cicero gave Tiro a parting gift, the original manuscript of On Friendship, with the following passage from the book copied out by hand at the top of the roll:

If a man ascended into heaven and gazed upon the whole workings of the universe and the beauty of the stars, the marvelous sight would give him no joy if he had to keep it to himself. And yet, if only there had been someone to describe the spectacle to, it would have filled him with delight. Nature abhors solitude.

Gentlemen, I have already reaped the reward of my return simply by making these few remarks. Whatever happens to me, I have kept faith with my beliefs. If I can speak again here safely, I shall. If I can’t, then I shall hold myself ready in case the state should call me. I have lived long enough for years and for fame. Whatever time remains to me will not be mine, but will be devoted to the service of our commonwealth.

It was perhaps at the end of the last meeting between Cicero and Octavian. It was undoubtful that Cicero and Octavian reached a deal that Cicero would advocate for Octavian being given imperium and the legal authority to wage war against Antony; in return, Octavian would place himself under the command of the consuls. Before parting, Cicero made the speech: On this day youth and experience, arms and the toga, have come together in solemn compact to rescue the commonwealth. Let us go forth from this place, each man to his station, resolved to do his duty to the republic. Octavian’s parting words: Your speeches and my swords will make an unbeatable alliance. This was not long before Octavian betrayed Cicero.

I shall end with Of all the sayings associated with Cicero, the most famous and characteristic:

while there is life there is hope.

 

Lustrum / Conspirata

I caught a cold last weekend and have been suffering for a few days. This is the second time in my 5+ years of living in USA that a cold had defeated me. Last Tuesday and Wednesday were the worst. It felt very cold even in a well heated room and every inch of my body ached badly Wednesday. It reminded me of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, known also as the Patriotic War of 1812. As the autumn came and the winter was not too far, instead of fighting in vain and losing many precious young lives, the Russian army extricated, people evacuated Moscow, even set the city ablaze to destroy any resource that might be found useful by the French. Soon a very cold and early winter came to torture Napoleon’s army. Despite Napoleon’s great quest of battles or negotiation to conclude the entire business as soon as possible, the Russians with mother Nature on their side did not need to confront their enemy directly. Weather was proven to be the most powerful weapon. Eventually Napoleon’s army exhausted with very little resource left, they were left with no choice but to retreat. History repeated itself again later last century. Feeling cold has a magical way of seducing me to think how those soldiers suffered for one man’s inflated and distorted ambition.

As strong-willed as I am, I carried on laboring through the items on my to-do list until the afternoon of Wednesday. It came to the point that either I give in and lie down or I risk of making a fuss and embarrassing myself in the public. I chose to give in. I had Lustrum/Conspirata with me and its audio recording. Not sure exactly how the hours went by, I remember hearing Cicero pace up and down the Forum delivering speeches, reading about the many malicious and cunning plots against him, the many requests that Pompey demanded from the Senator, the new big house that Terentia loathed and so on. That night, it was unusually windy in this part of California. I was woken up multiple times by the violently gusty wind. In my dream which I can only recall pieces and bits as usual, the grand Roman houses were destroyed, the pillars of the Temple of Jupiter were falling down and thousands of people chanting “murderer” towards Cicero. It was more settling and peaceful to stay awake listening to the violent winds blowing than falling asleep and seeing how Cicero’s enemies crushing him and the Roman Republic fell into the hands of the Three Beasts (Pompey, Caesar and Crassus) together with their weapon Clodius who became immensely popular among the non-high-class public.  

Following from the first book of Robert Harris’ Cicero trilogy, the second book Lustrum/Conspirata started with the beginning of Cicero’s consulship, went through many heart-wrenching twists and plots and power struggles, ended with Cicero’s exile from Rome, partially due to his enmity of Clodius, the lack of real support from Pompey and Caesar, partially thanks to Cicero’s very own moral judgement.

As I was approaching the last number of pages of this 2nd book of Robert Harris’ Cicero trilogy. I felt disheartened and grieved for Cicero. I am not ashamed to admit that tears fell involuntarily. Here I was, sitting in the living room, wrapped with a long warm red coat with another layer of blanket on top, yet feeling freezingly cold and shivering in the bleak prospect for Cicero. Heartbroken as I was, I wish there is a magic way to rewrite history for Cicero. However, Cicero is not beyond reproach. His character had evolved from nearly all virtuous (in my view) in Imperium to a mixture of greed, shrewdness, justice, loyalty towards the Roman Republic, and high morality of distancing himself from misconducts in Lustrum. It is the contrast of Cicero’s character with others in the same settings that rendered him illustrious.  

After turning over the last page, looking back at the quote that the writer included at the beginning, it echoes much more profoundly than before reading the book. “We look on past ages with condescension, as a mere preparation for us… but what if we are only an after-glow of them?” – J. G. Farrell, The Siege of Krishnapur.

Be careful of what questions you ask, for fear of what answers you may receive.

During the trial of Murena, Cicero defended him and attacked Cato: “You say that the public interest led you to start these proceedings. I do not doubt it. But you slip up because  you never stop to think. I am defending Lucius Murena not because of friendship, but for the sake of peace, quiet, unity, liberty, our self-preservation – in short the very lives of us all. Listen gentlemen (the jury), listen to a consul who spends all his days and nights in nonstop thinking about the republic. It is vital that there are two consuls in the state on the first day of January. Plans have been laid by men among us now to destroy the city, slaughter the citizens, and obliterate the name of Rome. I give you warning. My consulate is reaching its dying days. Don’t take from me the man whose vigilance should succeed mine. Do not remove the man to whom I wish to  hand over the republic still intact, for him to defend against these deadly perils.” In Tiro’s words from Lustrum: Cicero’s delivery became more and more powerful as he went on, and I was reminded of some strong and graceful fish that had been tossed, apparently dead, back into the water – inert at first and belly-up; but then suddenly, on finding itself returned to its natural element, with a flick of its tail, it revives. In the same way Cicero gathered strength from the very act of speaking, and he finished to prolonged applause not only from the crowd but from the jury.

The tricks of political campaigning that Clodius learned from Cicero: keep your speeches short, remember names, tell jokes, put on a show; above all, render an issue, however complex, into a story anyone can grasp.

Mark my words, Tiro: all regimes, however popular or powerful, pass away eventually.

I could not bear to watch, and yet at the same time it was impossible to tear one’s eyes away, for the ending of a great career is an awesome thing to behold, like the felling of a mighty tree. For a moment or two longer Lucullus remained upright. Then, very creakily, with joints stiff from years of military campaigning, he got down first on one knee and then on the other, and bowed his head to Caesar while the Senate looked on in silence.

Cato listed out the fourth option for Cicero before Cicero had to exile from Rome: From the Stoic point of view, suicide has always been considered a logical act of defiance for a wise man. It is also your natural right to put an end to your anguish. And frankly it would set an example of resistance to tyranny that would stand for all time. I disagree with Cato’s words so strongly that I felt the urge of quoting him here. To my delight, Cicero did not take his advice.

The dilemma returned: read the third book of the trilogy, partially for the sheer pleasure of enjoying Harris’ beautiful mastery of the English language and finding out what is next for Cicero, as one inner voice anxiously is pleading to me; “No, stop it! You know very well what would be the end of third book, The Roman Republic was turned into a dictatorship by Caesar who was then killed well-deservedly, followed by Cicero being murdered some time later.” another inner voice is shouting at me.

 

Imperium

Imperium is a fictional biography of Cicero written by Robert Harris.

In the dictionary, the definition of the word Imperium goes: absolute power, power to command, the supreme power held especially by consuls and emperors to command and administer in military, judicial and civil affairs. In Robert Harris’ Imperium, my interpretation of the title is: it signifies the process that Marcus Tullius Cicero, seen by the aristocratic class as a “new man”, climbed up the political ladder step by step. Cicero’s ambition of “conquer Rome” had to start with becoming a senator, which required an asset of one million sesterces. Without family fortune, he faced the three traditional options. “But making it would take too long, and stealing it would be too risky. Accordingly, soon after our return from Rhodes, he married it.” From there onwards, Cicero launched his political career as the most junior of the magistracies, with the official title of quaestor, followed by aedilepraetor and finally elected consul at age 43 in 63 BC at the end of this book. 

I enjoyed reading the paperback and also listening to this book. The audiobook narrated by Simon Jones is one of the very best audiobooks that I have heard last a few years. Robert Harris’ exquisite writing together with Simon Jones’ performance brought me back to Rome of more than 2000 years ago and induced me into a long-lasting illusion that I was there in person vividly seeing all the characters, hearing the speeches, standing in the Forum listening to the debates, watching people casting votes in the Field of Mars. I admired the author’s superbly brilliant story-telling skill coupled with his mastering of the English language. Upon finishing reading it silently, I found myself elevated to another level of pleasure by reading some passages aloud. I see and hear from Cicero, the “Dancing Master” and the foremost orator of the time Quintus Hortensius Hortalus, Tiro, Quintus, Lucius, Crassus, Pompey, Atticus, Caesar, Terentia and many others right around me. It is extraordinary how a beautifully-crafted book could do to one’s perception and imagination. Among all the passages, not surprisingly, I admire the speeches that Cicero gave most, which I shall share with you shortly. 

The biggest drawback of reading this book is that I fear to proceed to open Lustrum (2nd volume) and then Dictator (3rd volume) of Robert Harris’ trilogy about the life of Cicero. This first volume Imperium is about the rising of the most formidable and esteemed lawyer, the greatest orator, the brightest political star in Rome at the time; eventually reaching the ultimate consulship. Without reading the 2nd and 3rd volume, consulship appears to be the climax of Cicero’s conquering of Rome. Logically speaking, what could you expect from the next two volumes? I purposefully delay my reading of the subsequent volumes to live in Cicero’s glorious period for a bit longer, despite the strong temptation of indulging myself in the Cicero’s consul and post-consul era. 

Without more rambling from me, here is Cicero (in Robert Harris’ Imperium) speaking, for you to feel the sheer power and beauty of his language: 

We are aware with what jealousy, with what dislike, the merit and energy of “new men” are regarded by certain of the “nobles”; that we have only to shut our eyes for a moment to find ourselves caught in some trap; that if we leave them the smallest opening for any suspicion or charge of misconduct, we have to suffer for it at once; that we must never relax our vigilance, and never take a holiday. We have enemies – let us face them; tasks to perform – let us shoulder them; not forgetting that an open and declared enemy is less formidable than one who hides himself and says nothing!

When Hortensius pointedly invited many others but not Cicero to a boat party and merely nodded, the book goes in Tiro’s voice first: 

A trivial incident, you might think, and yet Cicero himself used to say that this was the instant at which his ambition hardened within hi to rock. He had been humiliated – humiliated by his own vanity – and given brutal evidence of his smallest in the world. He stood there for a long time, watching Hortensius and his friends partying across the water, listening to the merry flutes, and when he turned away, he had changed. I do not exaggerate. I saw it in his eyes. Very well, his expression seemed to say, you fools can frolic; I shall work. 

Followed by Cicero’s voice: This experience, gentlemen, I am inclined to think was more valuable to me than if I had been hailed with salvoes of applause. I ceased thenceforth from considering what the world was likely to hear about me: from that day I took care that I should be seen personally every day. I lived in the public eye. I frequented the forum. Neither my doorkeeper nor sleep prevented anyone from getting in to see me. Not even when I had nothing to do did I do nothing, and consequently absolute leisure was a thing I never knew. 

Eloquence which does not startle I do not consider eloquence. – Cicero, letter to Brutus, 48 BC

Cicero’s mentor Molon said to him, Content does not concern me. Remember Demosthenes: Only three things count in oratory. Delivery, delivery and again delivery

Few subjects make more tedious reading than happiness. 

Cicero: The most fatal error for any statesman is to allow his fellow countrymen, even for an instant, to suspect that he puts the interests of foreigners above those of his own people. That is the lie which my enemies spread about me after I represented the Sicilians in the Verres case, and that is the calumny which I can lay to rest if I defend Fonteius now. 

Here is a passage describing the scene that Cicero’s cousin Lucius attempted to defeat him in an argument: Words, words, words, is there no end to the tricks you can make them perform? But, as with all men, your greatest strength is also your weakness, Marcus, and I am sorry for you, absolutely I am, because soon you will not be able to tell your tricks from the truth. And then you will be lost. I chewed on these few sentences as I suspect it will be manifested in volume 2 and 3 in what followed. 

If you find yourself stuck in politics, the thing to do is start a fight—start a fight, even if you do not know how you are going to win it, because it is only when a fight is on, and everything is in motion, that you can hope to see your way through.

There is nothing quite like death to make one feel alive. 

Cicero, as a consular candidate, giving a speech to the potential voters: 

Roman is not merely a matter of geography. Rome is not defined by rivers, or mountains, or even seas; Rome is not a question of blood, or race, or religion; Rome is an ideal. Rome is the highest embodiment of liberty and law that mankind has yet achieved in the ten thousand years since our ancestors came down from those mountains and learned how to live as communities under the rule of law. So if his listeners had the vote, he would conclude, they must be sure to use it on behalf of those who had not, for that was their fragment of civilisation, their special gift, as precious as the secret of fire.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Part One)

I remember seeing this book go viral more than a decade and half ago when I was an undergraduate, in center displays of the bookshops I frequented. Admittedly, I was curious about what this was about, yet at the same time I had the very rebellious view of the world that any book that is not on science, engineering, technology, biography, philosophy or classics would be unworthy of my time of exploring at that time. I also held a very simplistic view of management and personal growth. Anyone would be able to succeed in his/her chosen endeavours and find enduring happiness, as long as he/she is reasonably intelligent, hard working from dawn to dusk, having a decent character, being good to others and following good principles. All these management and personal development books are a waste of time. That was my view till I read Jim Collins’ Built to Last and Good to Great at the Central Library in Imperial College London in 2006. I distinctly remember sitting in-between the shelves with my back against the radiator to keep me warm throughout a few days in the cold early spring. I could not stop reading Jim Collins’ two astoundingly amazing books despite my other inner voice nagging me to start preparing for the exams on computer science subjects. Ever since then, I have been more inclusive in my choice of books but yet still I did not want to pick up The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Why? Have you ever felt like not wanting to do what everybody else was doing? If yes, you would understand. That was my bias against this book. It was too popular for me to read. I preferred to read books that have endured the test of time and still being hailed as great books.

My effort of avoiding this book persisted till December 2nd, 2016. I resigned from my role at AMD Research. In my last meeting as an employee there, I asked my wonderful colleague and mentor Mike Ignatowski whether there is a book or books that had inspired him most. Mike recommended this book. My respect towards Mike and trust on his judgement lead me to drop my long-held prejudice and start reading it the following week so many years later. In fact, the front cover marks this copy as the 25th Anniversary Edition.

Have I finished reading it? No. I read the first half of it on private victory over last two months, along with reading other books mentioned in previous posts. I did not want to rush the process as it is a book more about practising, less about reading from front to back. On one hand, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a book that you never complete the reading process until you have mastered those habits. On the other hand, it is a lifelong struggle to practice and perfect yourself in following, adapting and re-developing those principles in your own world. Back and forth, multiple times, I took the very slow approach to digest and examine and consciously adjust my own behavior, attitude, inner-map and thoughts during these two months.

The first three habits covered in the private victory part are: be proactive, begin with the end in mind, put first things first. It would not be an exaggeration to say that 10 out of 10 people who know me a little would agree that I take lots of initiatives, hence I thought I am proactive by nature. With that as the baseline, I found the examples in the book enlighten me in other ways about being proactive. “Proactivity means more than merely taking initiatives. It means that as human beings, we are responsible for our own lives. Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions. We can subordinate our feelings to values. We have the initiative and the responsibility to make things happen.” Being proactive needs not to be pushy nor demanding. The opposite of proactive is reactive. Do you remember a time when you feel annoyed because the driver of the car ahead of you seems to be fiddling with his/her phone and not noticing the traffic light has turned to green? Queuing in Paris Baguette and wonder why there are so many staff and yet manage to be so slow at checking you out, think how many minutes of your life have been wasted in that queue? why is a cafe even named Paris Baguette without proper french baguette, annoyingly? That is reactive. I caught myself out on those two occasions with reactive thoughts while reading this book. Remember, Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose.

I learned part of the 2nd and 3rd habits from people around me. In the farming village that I grew up, everyone begins with the end in mind when it comes down to farming. Villagers discuss about how many kilograms of wheat, soybeans, or sesames etc one mu of land (1 mu ~ 666.7 square meters ) could produce at the harvest time. People plan growing crops before the spring comes, prepare the soil in advance, sow seeds, water the fields, remove the grass between the crops periodically and so on. We children learn from them naturally that we must study well if we want to do well in the school exams at the end of the term. It is a painstaking process but with guaranteed outcome given enough effort.  

To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you are going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction. It is based on effective personal leadership. Ask first what are the things you want to accomplish (leadership), ask next how you can best accomplish certain things (management). Stephen Covey suggested in the book that the most effective way to practice habit 2 is to develop a personal mission statement, focusing on what you want to be (character) and to do (contributions and achievements) and on the values or principles upon which being and doing are based. I am working on my own script on the principles that form my inner compass. It is an never-ending self-adjusting cycle of thought (first creation), action (second creation), and reflection. Major life events also force us to re-evaluate our priorities and re-calibrate our compass. In my limited experience a very painful crisis has the silver lining of making one a better person, given an open mindset and willingness to embrace new challenges and keep the end in mind.

The third habit is Put First Things First. I first heard about this and Covey’s famous time management matrix (shown to the right) in Graduate School in Imperial College London during a time management workshop. To us, back then it was an exercise of filling each quadrant with professional and personal activities with detailed breakdown of the amount time spent on each, analysing existing time allocation behavior, finding the disparity of how each of us plans/wants to effectively use the fixed amount of time of every day and how we actually unconsciously do. One of the outcomes of that exercise to me was the realisation that I cannot always afford to follow my curiosity. I found nearly all topics ever mentioned or linked to from the paper that I was reading fascinating. Then I would go off to read the papers it cited, from there the ones each of those references cited. If some concept was not well explained or understood by me from the science papers, I would search articles or discussions in the web and find books in the libraries on that topic to read and get absorbed in it till the confusion lifted off my head. I do not want to denounce my strong drive of learning more. With sufficient amount of time and space given, this tendency lead me to read and think much more broadly and what you end up learning in the process comes back to you very helpfully at sometimes the least expected moment. However, often we find there are other important matters to deal with, particularly when we enter the workforce, progress upwards on the career ladder and lead a team. It takes a lot practice to know what is important & urgent, to be able to say no to urgent but unimportant items or to delegate. It takes self-discipline to restrict our humanly habits of doing popular or pleasant but not important nor urgent activities.

To be continued as Part Two in a couple months time…