Becoming Mountains

It was just before winter hit in 2016 that the idea Becoming Mountains first appeared. Sid, a great friend from high school, and I were out eating Korean food in North York, Toronto. We were talking about my recent visit to Vancouver. Between love stories, and hiking trip tales, we started to talk about satisfaction, enjoying life, and not being stressed out or anxious. We talked about living healthy, being in our prime, reaching for our goals, and happiness.

These topics were not new to me. They had been on my mind for years. A year and a half prior to this conversation, we’d spent an entire day at the boathouse talking about similar topics. Books were recommended, quotes spoken, and a lack satisfaction was expressed by everyone present. These feelings were shared since high school, though a resolution to these discussions was never reached. It usually resulted in ordering another round of drinks and forgetting about it until the morning.

That night, after I returned from Vancouver I jokingly mentioned to Sid that I was going to become a mountain. Mountains exist and are satisfied just the way they are. They are formed and remain for thousands of years. They weather any storm. They don’t let just anyone climb them and never let anyone stay for long. They are grand and lofty. They erode and eventually disappear, just like us.
Hiking and meditation had taught me a lot and I learned a lot from mountains. I learned to be satisfied being myself, and with the things I said. I learned to appreciate things, everything (another gift given by Sid – thats another story). I learned to be confident. To be comfortable. To be a kid again. I was learning to become a mountain.

When I first mentioned this title to others they were taken aback at first and I can understand why. To them mountains can take a beating but keep on standing, as if they are rejecting what is happening around them. Denying their emotions. Closing themselves off to the world. I took time to think about this. I even debated changing the name to becoming water or rivers. Becoming more fluid and being the stream that flows down from the mountain tops.

After careful debate, and many talks about the name I decided to stick with becoming mountains but address this problem in my writing. Mountains do not close themselves off from outer circumstances; they erode, avalanches occur, and eventually even the tallest mountain will become a small stone. These are all natural phenomenon but the mountain doesn’t stop being a mountain. It takes the beating, it might suffer in some form (a dead forest on its hills, a giant boulder falling off one of its many cliffs) but the mountain remains for the time being. There is no rejection of what is happening to it. It wears its scars proudly.

Becoming Mountains the book will be coming out later this year and discusses this in much more detail. It goes into many topics on how to become a mountain, on how to be comfortable with who you are, confident in striving for what you want, cultivating healthy and fulfilling relationships, and being the best person you can be. The book also discusses how to weather the storms of life like a mountain. Not by shying away and cutting yourself off from the world but by being confident and comfortable with your emotions and your reactions toward them and others.

The book uses a metaphor of a house to exemplify all of the topics. The book walks you through the building of a house that will protect you from storms, set up healthy boundaries, bring positivity into your world, and even teaches you how to be a responsible host to the unwanted emotions that come knocking on your door.

This book is more than a self-help book. It is a personal manifesto that taught me how to live a more satisfying life. Throughout the writing of this book I learned what really interested me. It forced me to evaluate my life in ways I never had the opportunity to do before hand. It led me to the decision to switch careers. It gave me the confidence to tell my loved ones that I was dissatisfied in my current career. It helped me forgive those who were taking up way too much of my brain power. It allowed me to love more deeply than I ever had before. To put it simply it made me better and I want to share it in the hopes that it might make others better too.

Programming?

If you check out this blog you will notice that there will be a mix of content. Some posts will go into programming and coding while others will discuss becoming mountains and the ideas that go along with that. I will try to keep them separated but they both take up a big portion of my life and they will often be intertwined.

It was the writing of this book that led me to programming. The day I hit 10, 000 words I spent the evening watching the NHL All star game with my 6 year old nephew Liam, and Sid. Afterwards, Sid and I went to his house to watch a movie. We never ended up watching a movie but instead spent the whole night talking about programming and business. I felt enthralled by the world and stayed up late that night researching this new journey I was about to embark on and I haven’t looked back.
These two topics, though seemingly different, are very interconnected in my life and I want to share them both with the world. I find more fulfillment in programming than I did in my previous career and will discuss more of why that is in the future.

Everyone is struggling. We are all on Earth together. We can help each other become mountains and that is what I aim to do with this book and this blog. Please join me on this journey to become a mountain.

“Mountains may have a path that lead to it and up it. But that mountain would exist whether the path was there or not. It is not the result of the path”

Before this time I always felt like I was constantly underachieving. Drinking too much. Not eating healthy or working out enough. Seeking something that I couldn’t find or even name. When I look at my life I can see that it is full of accomplishments but yet I never felt satisfied with these achievements. Most people would probably say I am not underachieving but we are our worst critics.

A little bit about me

I come from a relatively well off and educated family. My father is a professor and my mother a teacher. My uncles are almost all professors, teachers, or principals. It was pretty much expected that I would be going to university, which I did in 2006. I went and got a liberal arts degree in history with a whole bunch of english literature supplementary courses. I wasn’t left with many options when I graduated so I went into the family business: education.

I got a bachelor of education and immediately took off abroad to teach. I worked in China for the next three years. While I was away I learned a lot.

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Lessons Learned From My First Month of Programming

I started programming a few months ago. Me and a friend were up late talking about our futures and we both concluded we weren’t happy in our jobs. Me as a teacher, him as an IT professional. After a lengthy conversation, we’d determined that he would be better suited in the world of business and since he was in tech and told me about all the possibilities, I became fascinated with the world of programming. I stayed up late that night researching as much as I could about it.

I had no programming experience before that night. I remember looking up the word ‘String’ trying to figure out what that even meant. I hadn’t heard of java more than the pop-ups that appeared sporadically asking for updates. Swift, not a clue. Python, a snake? The world of C, C++, and the rest of the programming world was Greek to me. I was 28 and had no idea what anything meant that first night I spent googling for information. I had been to codecademy.com and had started ‘html’ in the past but had stopped after the second lesson.

So that’s where I started my journey. I was at the bottom of the mountain. I had so many questions but didn’t have any programming friends, no network base, nothing. Just google.

So where did I start?

I started with swift. Not sure why? Maybe because I had an iPhone and a MacBook and it seemed like the logical choice. I’d googled programming for iPhone or iOS and swift came up and so I started there. I didn’t even learn about Objective-C’s existence for another month and even then had no idea what its purpose was.

When I woke up the next morning I got right to work. I was motivated, ready to learn the language and make apps. I thought that’s how it would work. I just needed to learn the language and then put it into some program and away we go. I had not researched enough. If you’re reading this right now, go and google “things I wish I knew when I started programming or coding.” I wish I had done that.

Or keep reading because I’ll tell you all the things I wish I knew when I first started.

The language
So I started with the language. I can speak a number of human languages and decided to treat this the same way. I literally went on the AppStore, searched ‘Swift’ and downloaded the first app that looked promising. I think it was called ‘”Swifty” and then changed its name to “Mimo” while I was halfway through using it. It had a similar flow to human language learning apps and I like that.

Mimo goes through a bunch of different concepts that are essential for programming, variable, constants, functions, classes, arrays, etc… however it just teaches how to use these concepts in the swift language. It did very little to explain what an array was or how I could implement it in a program. They assumed you knew how to program and were just learning a new language.

I would compare it to going to Japan, being give a list of Japanese words, with their romanticized pronunciation and being told to go get a hotel room, dinner, and get a job with that. The actual definition of the words and their English translation not given, you would certainly wind up in trouble. I had the language but no concept of what to do with it.

Mimo was a great tool to learn the swift language and it doesn’t advertise itself as anything else, but it doesn’t offer any fundamentals of programming. You have all the ingredients but no recipe. I almost finished before I realized I had no idea what to do with what I was being given. I stopped. It wasn’t a wasted 1-2 weeks though. I learned a valuable lesson. I wasn’t going to be able to just jump right into this world. I tried the sink or swim approach and realized that there was no swim method, just sink.

Obstacles and Next steps
So I regrouped. I figured that I knew some very basic swift (very basic – I could say hello (world) to some local Japanese people and say goodbye) but I had a long way to go. It would be more challenging than I initially thought but I kept going.

I decided it was time to just make something. 2 weeks had gone by and I had nothing to show so I wanted to see how to actually program something. I downloaded Xcode. I would be able to use swift to build an actual application or a program with Xcode.

I spent the next 2-3 weeks playing around with Xcode and a ton of online tutorials. Two tutorials I used that were really well done were: hackingwithswift and codewithchris. Watching their videos and reading their posts and books helped a lot. It was like meeting a foreigner in Japan, who spoke the language and understood the culture and wanted to help you do the same. So I followed them around, getting acquainted with some of the features of Xcode, and swift. They had their own techniques and included different concepts that the others left out.

I made programs. They weren’t mine because I pretty much followed the tutorials word for word but I was able to see things(objects) actually appear on a screen. Even though it wasn’t my code I got excited. I showed my family and friends. I felt like I made progress with the help of my new friends.

Hacking with swift introduced me to API and frameworks. I now knew of its existence after a month but had no idea how to really use it. With the help of these tutorials I started to get a sense of how to use them and where I could go if I was stuck. The tutorials were well written, and easy to understand and follow.

Code with Chris introduced me to programming fundamentals. I learned how to apply the language in a way just learning the language could never offer me. I learned what about Object Oriented Programming, and Model-View-Controller (MVC). I learned how to really use Xcode with the help of these videos and encourage anyone who would like a tutorial of Xcode and swift to check out Code with Chris.
After a couple of weeks of this approach I realized that I wasn’t improving the way I wanted to because I would just find myself copying the tutorials. I wanted to write my own code. The tutorials made some sense of the language I had picked up with Mimo, however I felt that there was a large gap of programming fundamentals that I was lacking. It was as if these friends of mine could hold my hand, introduce me to locals, but the minute they walked away I could just muster a few words and then have nothing else to say. So I told my friends that I appreciated their help and would certainly be back if I needed a helping hand but this was a journey I had to do on my own. I had to start from scratch and climb this mountain on my own.

A month had passed since I had decided to take on this journey. I had learned so much. I had learned what I had done wrong, what had helped and what hadn’t. I don’t regret anything: I wish I hadn’t jumped right into the language without knowing the principles. I wish I hadn’t just copied the codes word for word from others without knowing why I would be doing it that way. But I don’t regret having done it. I learned what a programming language looks like. I learned that that language can actually put objects on a screen and be used. I learned about something called an API reference that scared me when I looked at it.

But most importantly, I now knew what I had to do: I had to start from the beginning. I had to learn the foundational principles of programming, then I could put the language and the principles together to build programs and apps.