Rob

How To Be Amazing! A Manifesto – The Book


A few years ago, before I wrote this book, some of my friends said I was being too pessimistic. I begged to differ, but rather than being pessimistic, I decided to write a book about all the positive things I could think of. This book is that list, but by no means is it complete, this is only the start.

In many ways, this book is about the search for meaning. It is easy to get caught up in everything that is going on in our lives. But in a way, that takes away our sense of meaning and makes life feel purposeless. It isn’t so much that our lives have changed, but the world around us has. With social media and news, the world moves faster than ever before. There are so many distractions. To combat this existential crisis, I’ve come up with 42 ways to create a more meaningful life.

Some of these ideas are serious, while others like drinking coffee or showering at night are something different. Some are old, like setting a good example and starting a family. There are ideas about good habits, including reading books and keeping a journal. The purpose of this book is to help you fill your life with more meaning. If you are already living a meaningful life, then you are in luck, because this book can help you find meaning in what you are already doing.

The target audience, is young urban-dwelling people, as it contains conversations about getting started on your own. But even if you are older, you will still find insights in this book. In truth, How To Be Amazing! A Manifesto is for anyone who feels like modern life is missing something and wishes to make it better.

From The Back Cover

Daily, we are bombarded with advertisements, news, and social media diatribes. We’re encouraged to consume and pushed to distraction—all at the expense of thinking for ourselves. Our constant need for external validation has led us to compromise our values and allowed us to stagnate as individuals.

But, how much progress could we make if we set goals, stopped procrastinating, and finished what we started? What could we accomplish if we reclaimed the importance of introspection and self-improvement?

In HOW TO BE AMAZING!, author Robert Carr will show you how to discover meaning in a chaotic world. From journaling to midday walks to cooking your own meals, Mr. Carr lays out 42 ideas on how to make your life more amazing.

Review From The Editor

“HOW TO BE AMAZING by Robert Carr is an inspirational guide to harnessing your ambition and revealing your true potential. Filled with candid observances based on Carr’s personal life experiences, HOW TO BE AMAZING is a meaningful look at the importance of introspection and forward motion in a society that is gridlocked by technology and the constant need for external validation.”— Abigail Stefaniak, Editor

Seeing Things Differently

seeing things differently

This video is all about seeing things differently, from going for a walk in a different direction to going somewhere you haven’t been. Changing things up in your life will help you see things differently. In turn, the motivation from these new views will help you create a new life.

Writing a Story With a Typewriter

writing a story with a typewriter

I was on vacation for a week and found a typewriter, figure it would be fun to try some stuff out on it. I had a goal to write a story, a kid’s story, so the typewriter gave me the perfect chance.

Vacations

Vacations are a great time to relax and realize what kind of life you’ve been living.

Kids Are Smart

facebook screen capture
Me: Pour concrete, smash it, pour it again. Daughter: why? Me: jobs I guess. Daughter: I have 5 friends and pink fingernails.

Passive Observers

This is video is about the way technology is changing the way we live our lives. The point is that we are living through our screens rather than living through our sense.

The Day They Arrived

the day they arrived

I awoke to a loud sound in the night; it sounded like a plane, which wasn’t too out of the ordinary. Planes are always flying over our place. I went back to sleep. A few hours later I awoke again, this time I got up and walked to the window, the rest of the world was waking up. The sky was bright orange and pink across the horizon.

Down on the street, people were walking around, and cars were driving up and down the road as usual. I did my morning routine, of getting ready for work. I checked my phone a few times to see if anything interesting was going on. Social media was full of the usual pictures of food and people having fun. I twitted into the void about the noise in the night; I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

After packing my lunch and getting dressed, I headed to the door and said ‘goodbye’ to my wife and daughter. Outside people seemed more rushed than usual. It wasn’t that anything was different, rather everyone seemed a little more stressed. I figure it was because of the heat; it was hot last night and I always have trouble sleeping on nights like that

The subway was packed, and there were the typical delays. The heat seemed to be making everyone act a little less friendly than normal. Of course, the delays weren’t helping that either. At my stop, I got off the train, left the platform, and headed up to the surface. Almost right away, I noticed that my phone wasn’t connecting to the network. Though this wasn’t a total surprise, as my phone is old and always has problems connecting to the network. Today, as I’d done so many times before, racked it up to the heat, everything seemed to be a little off on days like these.

At the office I was a little late, most people were already in their seats. Around noon a co-worker sent me a message with a link to a youtube video, it was a blurry night shot. In it, there were things that looked like planes with lots of lights on the bottom. The scary part was that the whole sky was full of them. After watching for a few seconds, I got another message, “Looks fake, but it’s all over Reddit.”

I did a little searching and discovered some ‘legit’ sites were also showing the video. That surprised me, as it looked like one of those gag videos that gets passed around every once and a while. An article on CNN said it was recorded 250 km south of Paris at around 3:56 am. The report pointed out that they had decided to publish the video despite not being able to verify it. With a little more searching, I found 30 similar videos on YouTube.

At some point in the afternoon, I turned my head and looked out the window to my left. There was something strange in the sky, it looked like a jet, but wasn’t like anything I’d seen before. I turned to my computer, then back to the window, but whatever I’d seen was gone. I walked over to the window and asked my co-worker if she had seen something, she didn’t know what I was talking about.

A few minutes later, someone else sent me another article. This time it was about daytime sightings of ‘spaceships’ over cities along the east coast. At this point, people were taking the news seriously, and chatter in the office was getting loud. People were saying things like, “What the hell is going on?” “This can’t be real,” “What are these things?”

I decided to take a walk; all the gossip had become too much for me. I needed the break to get my focus back so I could get some work done.

Outside, the air was hot, and clouds filled the sky. I looked up because there was a sound like what I’d heard in the night, but this time it was louder and more direct. From behind a cloud, something grey pocked out; it was moving slow and getting bigger. My heart started to race. As the craft move beyond the clouds, I noticed two more similar objects behind it. They were moving slower, and whatever they were scared the living daylights out of me. I thought, “What the fuck?” At the same time, it felt like my soul leaped out of my body, and I started to sweat.

This all reminded me of a dream I’d had in the past. In the dream, I look up at the sky, and it is full of massive black triangle like ‘jets.’ They were organized like a flock of geese and moving slowly across the sky.

At this point, I looked around, and there were many more people outside, they are all looking up at the sky. Some faces are filled with disbelief, while others look consumed by stress. Still, others look like they are on the brink of losing their minds.

I rushed back into the building and headed to my office. As I was walking through the hall my phone rang, answering it I heard my wife’s voice. “I’m scared… Have you looked at the sky?” after a pause, she went on, “Can you come home?” At that point, my phone lost it’s signal and wasn’t connected to the network again. I tried restarting it, but that didn’t make any difference.

Back in the office, people were freaking out. Some were glued to the window; eyes fixed on the sky. Many others had already left or were outside seeing things for themselves. I looked at my computer, and there was an email from management. It read, “In light of the situation if you don’t have anything urgent, you can leave now.” I wondered, “What could be more urgent than this?’ As I finished reading the email, my boss stepped out of his office and repeated the message.

I packed up my stuff and headed for the door. The hallway was full of people now; everyone seemed to be heading home. When I got outside, only a few people were waiting for the bus. But I could tell they were packing in closer, so I pushed through to get as close as possible. When the bus arrived, I was able to get on. It was full, and no one wanted to get off, at every stop, more people pushed on. Looking around, many peoples faces were white as if they’d seen a ghost, others were crying.

At the subway station, I headed down to the platform; it was crowded. I had to wait for a few trains to clear some people before I could get on. The subway was hot and sticky, with so many people crowded in, the AC had stopped working.

Halfway home, the train stopped moving. The conductor said there was a problem with the train ahead of us. Fifteen minutes later, we pulled in to the next station. The conductor again, said there was a severe problem with the train ahead. With this news, most people stood still, but after 10 minutes, I gave up and headed to the surface.

Outside, the streets were full of people. There was a buzz amongst them; everyone was talking about what was going on in the sky. I looked up to see the same things I’d seen when I first stepped outside. I decided that even though it was interesting, I was going to keep my eyes on what was ahead of me. That seemed like a safer option at this point.

As I walked, I noticed that a lot of people were sitting on the ground or leaning against buildings. Some were crying; others had even passed out. The whole situation was freaking me out, but I knew my only options was to get home as quickly as possible.

When I finally got to my building, the front door was open, but the lobby was empty. The elevator doors were open, but they weren’t moving, the lights above said ‘In Service.’ Heading to the stairs, I climbed to my floor. Walking down the hall, I could hear the buzz of the news emanating from every door.

At my apartment, I unlocked the door and headed in. The blinds were closed, my wife and daughter were sitting on the floor in the middle of the living room. Her laptop was open, and she was watching the news from her home country, she said, “look at this.” We watched the feed, it was like what I’d seen outside but to the extreme. “Fuck! What the hell is going on?”

We made dinner and tried to eat, but neither of us was hungry. Our daughter was ok; she ate because she had no idea what was going on. Her only hint to the situation was the stress on our faces, but we tried our best to hide it. After putting her to bed, we watched more news to see if there were any updates. We both tried calling our parents to see if everything was alright, but our calls wouldn’t go through.

That night I tried to sleep but rolled around restlessly instead.

The Problem With Confidence

confidence

It is great to have confidence, who wouldn’t want to have it? Having confidence helps us accomplish what others might think is impossible. It also ensures in a way, that we are willing to try things that may fail. In a lot of ways, confidence is an essential piece of achieving something significant or important. All this being true, confidence also comes at a cost, and can often act as a mask.

Of course, this makes sense, when we go to the doctor we want to feel confident in the advice we get. If you went to the doctor, and the doctor was sheepish and unsure, you would ask for a second opinion. For many things, this is the case, we expect experts to be sure of what they are saying; otherwise, we ask someone else. For this reason, confidence has its value, especially when it concerns our health or families, we want to be sure.

We Mistakenly Select For Confidence

The problem is that we often end up selecting for confidence, without even realizing it. When we are looking for answers, we want good ones, and we want the right one. Due to this, we feel like we are getting good answers when the person telling us something is confident. It is often difficult to understand questions, let alone answers, so we often rely on assuredness. This is especially true when we have little knowledge about something. At these times, our only gauge of truth is the confidence of the speaker.

With the internet, there is more information than ever before. This abundance of knowledge makes our choices more difficult. For many topics, we are bombarded with alternative options, but how do we know which one to choose? Because of this, often the quality of the presentation is all that we can work with. Which in many ways, is a show of confidence. Unfortunately, at times this comes at the expense of facts and accuracy. As an example of this, look at advertising which is rarely about facts, rather it is all about image.

Why We Use Confident As Metric

This may explain why we have a problem. For ourselves, we often gain confidence as we learn more about a topic. For this reason, so we associate confidence with practice. In turn, we come to assume that other people act the same way; so they are confident because they have worked hard. From this, we are able to pass on some of our decision making to other people. When we are looking for guidance, we use confidence as a barometer.

This being the case, it is also concerning, as some people are good at confidence. In a sense, they may not be good at anything else, or at least anything that matters. In turn, this means we may give them more faith and power then they deserve. For an example of this, look at Donald Trump, many would say he is incompetent, though I doubt that. Regardless, he has lots of confidence, and that is a big part of the success he has.

In many ways, Trump also serves as an anomaly, as I suspect many people in power are like him, but he is more loud about it. No doubt many are smart and able, but that isn’t what matters, instead, their performance does. And to be clear about the word choice of ‘performance’, I mean in the sense of an actor rather than an athlete. For many reasons, Trump stands out, but most politicians are exactly like him.

Confident Performers Rule The World

Given this proposition, it seems our society is full of people who are confident performers. But that could also mean they don’t have the skills or competence that matters. People can only optimize for a couple of things, so it may become necessary to optimize for performance or confidence over other skills.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that confidence isn’t a skill; it is an important one if you want to be a leader. But at the same time, it isn’t useful once you become a leader, because then you need to make good choices. You could say, that confidence gets people into positions where they can make choices, but it doesn’t help them make those choices. In the end, the choices could be worse, as people with excessive confidence may not have gone through the typical challenges of learning.

In many ways, confidence is a surface thing; and it doesn’t require a deep dive. It doesn’t require expertise; rather it needs the ability to project expertise. For that reason, we get lots of people projecting expertise, but not being experts. Know the saying ‘fake it till you make it’? It is that, but instead of making it, people keep on faking it. So, we have a society filled with fakers. In some ways, this makes sense, with so much information, confidence is a valuable currency.

Confidence On The Internet

As an example of this, on platforms like Medium, long articles get more engagement and upvotes. Because of this, they get more shares and popularity. Which makes me wonder; are these articles popular because they signal confidence, or because they are insightful?

Here is my theory; people have written long, insightful articles and gotten traction. Some other people looking at the stats discovered that longer pieces were getting more engagement. Using that information, they wrote long articles and got a better response. From that, they were rewarded for length rather than content. In a sense, this is like rewarding confidence over substance. No doubt, some of these articles are good, but often they are copywriting that says nothing at all. Part of the reason I’m skeptical, is that most people have a short attention span, so how are they able to read 20 minute long articles?

It comes down to this, showing confidence is a great way to gain trust. But it also depends on people not knowing the facts or the truth of the matter. But this is easy because people often don’t know much about what they are asking experts. In this sense, asking an ‘expert’ opens us up to people willing to exploit us with their confidence. This isn’t like asking a doctor, but rather it is like asking a salesperson.

Confidence In Person

Thinking about this, reminds me of someone I know. He is very loud and confident; his friends look up to him and see him as an authority. But when I’ve had conversations with him, there is rarely substance to what he says. Instead, he is loud and gets the people around him on his side, rather than being honest or factual. In most situations, this works great for him, as he is good at getting people on his side. Obviously, this is more complicated than that, but confidence is an important factor. To be frank, in private conversations, he is more honest and fair, but those types of conversations don’t happen often.

I’d say this is also the case in many different types of situations. Being someone who is shy but opinionated, I find that people who aren’t shy often have the ‘floor.’ With that position, they tend to spread uninformed ideas to the people around them. The people around them don’t know the facts either, so they take the word of the confident person. For this reason, bad ideas often spread because of who is saying them, rather than the substance of the statements.

Confidence Might Not Matter

Now that I’ve spent some time describing the issue, it is time to wind down the conversation. In many ways, our world is run by people with lots of confidence. You could say this is detrimental to all of us, because the best people to make choices aren’t making those choices. But, I’d suggest that in a lot of cases it might not matter.

Consider sales, salespeople sell products, but they can only sell what exists. If they are confident enough to sell something that doesn’t exist, by the time the contract is signed, it will be about something that does exist. That may sound like a scam, and it could be, but it could also be a revision of intent. In other words, buyers follow confidence but settled for what is available.

For another example, look at a CEO. The CEO can be confident and unaware, but this won’t matter as the company is often a machine that functions on its own. In a way, all the important choices have already been made and are part of the process. So, when someone tries to steer the ship in the wrong direction, the boat keeps going where it is headed.

The point, which might not be clear, is that even though unjustified confidence is a problem. In a lot of cases, it doesn’t matter because things are already working. No matter how confident someone is, they still have a considerable battle against ‘the system’ if they want to change it. They can try to change things, but there will often be checks and balances that slow them down. In the end, they may claim to get what they want, but that doesn’t need to be true.

Confidence Is A Mask

Confidence is important, but it is also a powerful mask that hides incompetence. We need to learn to be sure of the things we know and skeptical of what we don’t. At the same time, we need to know that there are bad actors going around doing the opposite. Instead of justified knowledge, they use confidence to hide incompetence. Knowing this gives you some defence against their tactics. But unfortunately, you will always be in a battle with people who aren’t paying attention.

In some ways, the conclusion is silly, know that the world is full of people who pretend to know things but don’t. With this, you can avoid falling for tricks of confidence. Or you could use confidence to your advantage. At the same time, this knowledge can be painful as you can see it, but not do much about it. If you are wise, you may want to learn to accept this and move on from things you can’t change. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t try, fight if you can, but many games aren’t worth playing.

In the end, the most important thing you can do is your own research. Understand as best you can the things you have questions about, and use that knowledge to ask more informed questions. With that, you will find it easier to smoke out hucksters and realize if you are getting tricked by confidence. For bigger things, you can try to spread information first, as people tend to anchor to what they hear first. But even with this, you will be in a battle with many louder voices. So once again I say, some fights are not worth fighting.

If you have any better advice for dealing with this, let me know in the comments below.

J-Squared

twins

Joan and Jane were born at 7:59 and 8:15 on a Tuesday morning. Two hours later their mother died. Two hours after that their father left the hospital and never returned.

Joan and Jane were identical twins. Due to the circumstances surrounding their births, they would both live two entirely different lives. That said, both girls quickly got adopted without complication.

Joan was adopted by the Smith’s. They lived in Alberta, which was far away from the location of her birth in Toronto. The Smith’s lived an honest life. Mr. Smith worked as a bus driver and maintained the family farm with the rest of his time. Mrs. Smith was a 5th-grade teacher at the nearby elementary school.

As Joan got a little older, she learned a lot about how to take care of the farm. Her parents appreciated her hardworking nature and dedication to their livelihood. As a result of this diligence, Joan got good at taking care of the family animals and the more labour intensive work like bailing hay. Every summer she would spend most of her days with her father doing farm-related work.

Although Joan’s family lived a simple life, they always encouraged her to take her school work seriously. She got straight A’s and read books when she had time to herself. She was a huge fan of science fiction and was always asking questions about how the world worked. Her parents tried their best to satisfy her curiosity but knew as she got older they would run out of answers.

Jane’s life was very different. She was adopted by the Carter’s who lived in Forest Hill, an affluent neighbourhood in Toronto. Her father was a lawyer, and her mother was a doctor. They were both very successful, but always busy with work. Because of this, once Jane was old enough to be left to her own devices, she was.

Jane’s parents instilled in her the idea that hard work was necessary and an essential part of a successful life. Even if she didn’t want to believe them, she saw it every day in the lives of her parents. Jane went to private schools throughout her childhood and did very well.

Jane also loved reading, and with her parent’s library, there was always something for her to pick up. Most of the books were non-fiction, but the variety was vast enough that she never got bored. Due to this, Jane never thought to ask for any books as there were always tones on the shelves. That said, she loved watching science fiction and wasn’t too interested in the things that girls her age typically like.

Both girls were excellent students in high school. They stayed out of trouble and always got excellent grades. Of course, there were times when their respective parents lost their patients, but that was often a short-lived affair. If asked, their parents only complaint would have been the occasional experimentation with drugs. Both girls figured they had kept it a secret, but their fathers always knew.

In addition to their experimentation, they were both interested in science and did well in math. The drugs may have had some influence, but they were both drawn to cognitive neuroscience. The science of the biology behind thoughts and how the brain works.

Joan’s grades were excellent, and she got into every university she applied. But even with the scholarships, she was offered, money was still a concern. So she decided to stay local and went to the University of Calgary.

Jane was in the same boat, and she got into every university she applied. But with money not being a concern, she decided to take a chance and went to UC Berkeley in California.

Both girls continued to do well at university. They were always at the top of their classes and known amongst their peers. Although they had a fair amount of friends, they usually chose to stay in and study or read. Over the years, they both had a couple of boyfriends and at one time or another a girlfriend. Regardless of who they dated, it was important for both of them to have someone special in their lives.

Their universities careers were similar. They learned a lot about their subject matter and finished at the top of their classes. They both also became interested in the mind-body problem. Which is a philosophical question that asks if the mind and body are different things? Are thoughts physical or are bodies mental? Or maybe there is something different that connects both of them?

When it came to practical things, they were both fascinated by machine-mind interfaces. It likely had something to do with all the sci-fi they watched. Regardless, mind-controlled limbs were going to be all the rage going forward.

As they both neared the end of undergrad, they were approached by their respective professors and asking if they wanted to take on a Ph.D. 

Jane liked where she was, so she took up one of her professors offers and stayed at Berkeley. Her focus would be on brain-body interactions. She was particularly curious about how she could use live brain activity to control devices.

Joan, on the other hand, wanted to make a more significant change in her life. She was growing bored of living at home, and due to her grades and area of interest could practically go anywhere she wanted. She ended up settling on moving to the University of Toronto.

Joan’s focus would be a mix of engineering and neuroscience. She was more curious about the neurological response to the movement of limbs. She decided to investigate how changes in positions, resulted in changes to states of mind. To do this, she would need to build artificial limbs and figure out how to get them to respond to user feedback.

Over the years, the girls work progressed with the typical ups and downs of academic life. The direction of their work, for the most part, stayed the same. However, they adjusted their research as needed and became more specific in their goals.

As Jane approached the end of her program, she had developed a non-invasive headset that was able to detect changes in brain activity. This activity was matched with body actions. In a sense, by recording activity and calculating patterns, she was able to make accurate predictions about expected arm and leg positions.

Joan ended up developing an artificial limb that could respond to cognitive signals. But, she had to use already existing technology to capture those signals. The technology was bulky and unmovable. However, it made great sense of what users were thinking and translated that feedback into movement. Her limb was also able to give feedback and keep balance despite the noise in cognitive signals coming from the headset.

Both ladies successfully presented their findings and were awarded their degrees. At the same time, they were both equally unsure of what to do next. Seeking some community feedback, they both submitted their research and headed to the ‘Brain Body Machine Conference.’ Due to their expertise, they would present in different streams and rooms, but would still be at the same conference.

Joan presented her findings to a half-full auditorium. It wasn’t that her work wasn’t significant, it just wasn’t as exciting as some of the other work presented at that time. Practicality makes the world go round but isn’t what grabs people’s attention.

Jane’s presentation was later that day, but unlike Joan’s, the auditorium was full of people. Her technology, though simple was groundbreaking for the community. The future applications seemed enormous and would fuel the bleeding edge of the growing industry.

After Jane’s presentation, someone approached her and said “You are impressive. I saw your other presentation earlier this morning. You’ve got your hands in lots of different baskets.” Jane paused for a moment and replied: “You must have me confused with someone else, this was my only presentation.”

The person looked confused but went on “I’m sure it was you. Well, I thought it was you. She had the same voice, hairstyle and look. I guess her clothes were a little different, but the style was the same.”

Jane stood there in confusion, and wondered how such a person could exist? She hadn’t met anyone like her before, nor had she heard of someone who looked like her either. Jane thanked the person for the compliment and took a walk to clear her mind. After stepping outside for a few minutes, she headed to the cafeteria to grab something to eat.

Jane got in line and picked up a sandwich and a drink. She walked along to the cashier and paid, then looked around for a place to sit. Jane scanned the room from left to right, when someone caught her eye. She looked again and noticed the back of someone’s head who was wearing a similar outfit and had her hairstyle.

Primed by the previous conversation, Jane headed in that direction. When she got closer, she could see the side of the other woman’s face. Jane couldn’t help but notice she was looking at a mirror reflection. She even had the same arch in her nose, and her eyes were the same shape and colour.

As Jane approached, Joan looked up and stared into Jane’s eyes and mumbled ‘WTF.’ Jane took a seat across from Joan and said: “I never knew that I had a twin?”

Jane and Joan knew they had both been adopted, but they had no idea they were twins. After that first meeting, they realized how much they had in common. They discovered that they liked the same types of books and movies. They also realized very similar things inspired their works.

When they got home from the conference and brought up what had happened with their parents, things were cleared up. The circumstances of their adoptions had been chaotic, so everyone thought it would be best to keep it a secret.

When it came to business, they realized that their works would go hand in hand. They also realized, that with a little bit of collaboration, they could turn their research into a fantastic business.

After some organization, they approached Jane’s parents and asked for an investment. They used the investment to create a company called J-Squared. In a short time, their company became the leading producer of mind-controlled prosthetics.

Korean Spicy Ramen Challenge

Korean Spicy Ramen Challenge

Over the weekend my family and I went to a Korean grocery store. This isn’t a new experience, as we often go to these sorts of stores. With our mostly Japanese diet, there are many ingredients that we can’t find at a regular grocery store, so a Korean one is our best bet.

One of the stores that we often visit tends to have free samples, when something looks good I always give it a try. For some reason, it must have been the time of day; there were more samples than usual. Often, they fry oyster mushrooms, but this time that wasn’t the case. Instead, in the same place, there was something different.

At the time, I was with my daughter and figured she couldn’t eat it, so I avoided the sample and walked around the store instead. As we finished up our grocery list, I told my wife we needed some Kimchi. She said “You’d be better at picking it,” so she distracted our daughter. Usually, my wife has the shopping list, and I’m the designated distractor.

As I walked through the store, I took the long way and grabbed as many samples as I could. When I got to the kimchi, I looked at the different options and opted for a smaller one. I love kimchi, but it tends to smell up the fridge before we can get through it. At the same time, my desire for it comes and goes, so I may eat it every day for a week, then not touch it again for months.

As I walked away from the kimchi, I realized that I was beside the free sample I had wanted but avoided earlier. The girl at the stand looked at me and said, “Korean Spicy Ramen Noodles?” I took a look at the noodles and picked up one of the cups. The girl handed me a small spoon. Without thought or consideration, I scooped up the noodles in one bite. As I chewed them, they didn’t seem all that spicy.

The girl watched me and said, “Aren’t they hot?” with a serious look on my face, I said, “Not much.” She smiled and nodded with a look of surprised, then said “Wow!” At this point, I’m not sure what happened, but I acted without thinking and said, “You know what? I’ll take one.”

I reached over and grabbed one of the packages of noodles, turned around and started to walk away. The girl called to me, “Wait. You get this drink for free when you buy the noodles.” I turned back, and she handed me some clear flavoured drink. Not knowing what it was or wanting it, I took it anyways.

Afterwards, I wondered why? Was it because she didn’t think I could handle the heat, or was it because I wanted to prove how strong I was? Maybe my ego or sense of self was being challenged, and I had to buy the noodles to prove something.

As I walked away and headed back to the cash registers, I felt a little bit of spice on my lips. After a few seconds of this, I sort of thought the flavour had gone away. Maybe my mind was somewhere else, and I wasn’t thinking about it.

When I found my wife she pointed at the noodles and asked: “What’s that?” Trying to justify my purchase, I said: “Oh these are the Korean Spicy Ramen noodles Micheal (my old co-worker) told me to try?” She looked at me questioningly, in the way she usually does when she doesn’t approve of the snacks I’m buying.

As we piled our stuff onto the cashier’s conveyor belt, I started to second guess the noodle purchase. And thought to myself, “why am I buying these?” When I lived in Korea, I could handle the heat, but that was a long time ago. More recently, we rarely have anything spicy. I also thought back to the last time I tried Korean Shin noodles. They are a less spicy variation, but even then I didn’t enjoy them as much as I used to.

While I reconsidered my experiences from the past, I realized my lips were getting hotter and starting to burn. I can’t be sure if they were getting hotter or I was paying more attention to them. Regardless, it wasn’t enjoyable, and it wasn’t only my lips; my whole mouth was now on fire. “What the hell did I eat?” I whispered to myself. “Why am I such a wuss when it comes to spicy food?” I thought.

The longer we waited in line, the more I noticed the burn. As the cashier started to scan the groceries, I realized I had no other choice but to give up. I picked up the noodles and drink and in shame said, “Please take these back. I can’t handle the heat.” As I said this, a sense of relief flowed through my body. The cashier took the food products without comment and placed them on the counter beside her.

As we walked through the parking lot, my mouth was still burning. But I felt better about not buying the noodles or having to eat them again. Inside the car, my wife pulled out Korean rice cakes and handed me one. Eating the slightly sweet chewy treat cleared my mouth of the spice and put me back in a normal state. I thought out loud, “This is the kind of Korean food I like.”

As we drove home, I came to realize that I failed the Korean Spicy Ramen Challenge.