The Times, They are a Changin

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Diarmuid Hudner
CEO of Cybersmarties Ltd.

“Time: the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole”

I am not sure if any of you have noticed the sunsets this October. Perhaps because of the cold, dry weather we are experiencing they have been more visible and thus I have taken more notice of them. The twinning colours of red and orange as the sun is setting over a foggy landscape of trees has been breath-taking to watch. There is something mystifying in the silence of a sunset or of a full moon when everyone is sleeping. I wonder at how many billions of people over billions of lifetimes have watched this same moon, some wishing upon it, some worshipping it but all curious about it. No matter where you are, in whatever part of the world, we all have the same view.

I wonder under the gaze of this moon, have we got the concept of time all wrong. Animals have no concept of time and therefore do not fear death. It is perhaps because they have no knowledge or concept of time that they are generally content in themselves (I use my 20 year old sheepdog “Seamus” here as an example) whereas humans are afraid of death and therefore try to pack as much into the time they believe they have left in order to believe they have not wasted the time allotted to them. This is what is called “having a good time”. For Seamus, all he has probably realised in getting older is that he can’t chase cars like he used to, female dogs don’t take any notice of him anymore, he sleeps more often and is more annoyed by the sounds of imaginary intruders (they could be there but I haven’t seen them). But if you believed that you had all the time in the world (no pun intended) you would most likely be far more content because you would not feel you had all this stuff to do because you were running out of it. After all is it not contentedness that we are all seeking. Therefore I am with Seamus on this one.

This brings me to the point of children. Children being children count their days in the number of “sleeps” until a particular event comes and this time measurement has been handed down by parents. Children under a certain age and just like Seamus, have no concept of time (I must acknowledge here that cats and other species of the animal kingdom are not excluded). They eat when they are hungry, take a nap when they are tired and play the rest of time. Sounds good to me and there seems to be a pattern arising here. My father, who is a farmer and still farming at 83, does not carry a watch except for Sunday mass, which is worn more as a fashion accessory that anything else. He has never had any concept of time. He worked outside until he was finished and if he wasn’t, it would wait for the next day. Dad was always more interested in seasons as a measuring barometer and how nature was evolving, like if berries were out late then we could expect a mild Winter. One of his pet hates was articles in the Farmers Journal by young farmers saying their grass yield was up this week by 2%. He would and does say “measuring it wont make it grow any faster, it will come up when its supposed to come up”. There is wisdom in this.

To me there is a certain natural rhythm to the world. The sun rises the sun sets, the oceans ebb and the oceans flow. We may run around trying to fit everything into an allotted time but time because it is infinite doesn’t recognise our feeble attempts at trying to control it, it just keeps on keeping on. At Cybersmarties, we want children to be children: to be allowed a safe, protected space where they are free to create and make friends because humans are creative and social creatures. When I was young (many moons and sleeps ago) we spent all day down fields, over hills, getting cut by briars and stung by nettles and it was great. I am still for all this as much as possible. But the world has changed, values have changed and how children play now is different to how I played and how children will play in the future. So if social media is a place where kids gather together nowadays, then let it be a safe place for them, where only other kids are allowed and have the TIME to be kids as long as possible. Perhaps in this way, we can maintain contentedness longer and postpone time for as long as possible.

The Times, They are a Changin was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Under The Surface

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Brendan Woodage
Operations Manager at CyberSmarties

When a problem just goes away, what are the factors involved in its disappearance? How does a problem cease to exist? The more I think about this question, the more I realise that problems don’t just disappear when ignored; they expand and multiply. A problem can only ever disappear when action is taken towards solving it.

For example, yesterday I had a toothache. The reason I had a toothache was because I have a cavity in one of my molars which I’ve continuously ignored. I know the problem will only get worse as time goes on but I choose to ignore that fact that I need to get a filling. This ignorance of problems doesn’t end with just me. We as a society also look at problems in the same light. Homelessness, Cyber Bullying, and even Mental Health and Suicide. Problems that everyone knows exists, but turn a blind eye to, expecting that they will in some way or another fix themselves.

But the reality is that problems don’t just fix themselves. My tooth will never truly get better unless I ultimately take the right action. This is the case with every other problem that each of us face. So for problems which face society, it takes a collective effort which has the goal of solving a particular issue which ultimately results in that problem being fixed. For example, on weekends, after the excitement of a night out, the streets are littered with cans, bottles, fast food waste and worse yet people wake up in the morning to find the streets are cleaned, broken glass removed. It is as if the events of the previous night never even happened. And this gets overlooked as once upon a time, these streets would have remained in the state that they were the night before. But someone (possibly everyone) had had enough of this behaviour and decided to put action into place to tackle this problem. And now we have clean streets, with the public oblivious to the work that was put in to make it this way.

A lot of the time, the simplest of actions towards getting rid of a problem make a huge difference. And quite often those actions aren’t seen, or heard. These actions happen in the background and then one day society realises that the problem is no longer there. We know the true extent of this here at CyberSmarties. From the outside looking in, CyberSmarties is a social network for primary school kids. But we didn’t create CyberSmarties with the sole intention of creating a fun and age appropriate network for kids. We created CyberSmarties with the goal of eradicating cyber bullying, promoting positive online and offline behaviour, promoting self-esteem and empathy, and all within a locked down safe space. We chose to tackle this problem with our underlying behavioural technology, our constant positive reinforcement via our What Matters section, Sentiment Analysis, SMART filter systems and other key features that are continuously active beneath the surface of our site. Messages containing negative words are prevented from being sent, gold stars are rewarded for good behaviour, and noticeable change in the students online and offline behaviour are all evident when a child uses CyberSmarties.

We saw a problem, and we’re doing our part to make sure this problem becomes a thing of the past, and hopefully one day the internet will be a kinder, and safer place for people across the world.

Under The Surface was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Staying true to yourself

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Brendan Woodage
Operations Manager at CyberSmarties

Social media currently co-exists with our lives. For many of us there is no boundary between real life, and the life we live online. The first thing many of us do when we wake up is reach over to our phone to see did we “miss anything” while we slept. However, one of the truest aspects of social media is that it gives us the opportunity to portray ourselves in the light that we want to be portrayed. Shy people can be outspoken, rich people can flaunt their wealthy lifestyles, and your everyday Joe like me can share moments in our everyday lives. We can choose to be smart, funny or provocative, and we can let our followers, friends, and family believe that the “you” that they see on social media, is the “real you”.

However, in my opinion, this ability to craft yourself into your ideal version of yourself online is not actually one of social media’s benefits, but one of social media’s greatest pitfalls. For those who have a strong sense of identity offline, this isn’t much of an issue, but for many of us who don’t, social media can distort our own identities and have damning effects on our mental health as we attempt to recreate this online idealistic version of ourselves offline.

In one of my favourite books – Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, Harry Potter stumbles across a mirror in an abandoned classroom. The mirror in question is called the Mirror of Erised, in which your refection, according to Albus Dumbledore (Harry’s Head Master), shows the “deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts.” Even the name “Erised” is “desire” spelled backwards, as if reflected in a mirror. When someone looks at this mirror (being in the magical world of Harry Potter) it not only shows your reflection, but also displays the reflection of the version of you that you most desire.
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“Can you think of what the Mirror of Erised shows us all?” Harry shook his head.

“Let me explain. The happiest man on earth would be able to use the Mirror of Erised like a normal mirror, that is, he would look into it and see himself exactly as he is. Does that help.”

Harry thought. Then he said slowly, “It shows us what we want… whatever we want…”

“Yes and no,” said Dumbledore quietly.

“It shows us nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts. You, who have never known your family, see them standing around you. Ronald Weasley, who has always been overshadowed by his brothers, sees himself standing alone, the best of all of them. However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.

I believe that social media carries a huge resemblance to the Mirror of Erised. When we look at social media, we only ever see other people’s desired reflections of themselves, and only portray the version of ourselves that we want people to see. And unfortunately it is actually a common case where you can see so much of someone online, and believe that you understand and know this person and then when you meet them in person (offline) they may seem like a different person to the one you thought you knew. And that is because they have crafted this image of themselves, carefully selecting what characteristics, traits and appearance they want you to see, without entirely being true to themselves.

And unfortunately, many of us waste away behind the screen, crafting this ideal version of ourselves online, ignoring the fact that it is the offline version of you that matters. This online version of you should not be a goal, target, or indicator of your social standing. Your online identity should reflect your offline identity and not the other way around.

So this week, my blog is actually a plea. I urge anyone who is reading this to do just one thing. Be true to yourself both online and offline. Your identity is yours alone and it is your actions both online and offline which defines you. We here at CyberSmarties believe that if social media is used incorrectly, it can not only effect your happiness, but it can have lasting negative repercussions on your mental health and wellbeing, but you can also lose touch with your true identity in pursuit of a better one. So be yourself, and don’t chase a desired image of yourself that you believe will be most liked by others. And don’t be fooled by everyone else’s online personalities either. Social media is the real Mirror of Erised, and as Albus Dumbledore advised Harry,

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

Staying true to yourself was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

The Inner Dialogue

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Diarmuid Hudner
CEO of Cybersmarties Ltd.

“Intelligence has no bearing on your level of happiness because happiness doesn’t have an IQ”
From the novel Im Happy Now.Com

This week, I heard on the radio on the way to work that the Leaving Cert Results were out. I was taken back to a time in my own youth when the same circumstances faced me. Although I did a good leaving cert, I know now that my results had no bearing whatsoever on how my life turned out, what trials lay ahead and ultimately how happy I would become. I write this blog today for everyone who has just gotten their results but especially for those who may be disappointed and are worried for their future. Please don’t be.

Firstly, as parents, we hope the best for our children. We try and give them the best we can so that they have the same or hopefully better opportunities than we had ourselves. This is only natural. We push them to be the best they can be but sometimes if truth be told, their results are seen as a reflection of us as parents. But if we are to stand back for a moment and look at our own lives, really think about the purpose of why we are living, we can see that it is ultimately to find contentment or happiness and no results will ensure that. I am not saying that we should not try and achieve, far from it, what Im saying is that we have to look at the purpose of our lives first.

To me, life is a series of challenges and the real learning is how to face them, learn from them and strive for happiness. No academic results will prepare you for life. Life just happens. Whether you have done exceptionally well in your Leaving Cert or not, results are not a definition of who you are or who you will become. The only one who defines how successful you become (and the definition of success is different for everyone) is you. Happiness doesn’t have an IQ. Happiness is just happiness. If your life brings you joy then you are an extremely successful person. This doesn’t just happen, it takes work to train how your mind perceives setbacks and disappointments, pain and loss. These are unavoidable but equally so are good times, laughter, love and fun. The question is, which do you want more?

For many years, I looked at financial success as a measure of who I was as a person. Now I know that financial success is just financial success. It allows financial freedom; that is all. It doesn’t guarantee you will marry the girl or boy of your dreams. It doesn’t guarantee you that the people you love will be free from harm or illness. It doesn’t guarantee real friendship and it doesn’t guarantee you are happy in yourself as a person. It just means you have one less thing to worry about. I never agree with those who say money cant buy you happiness because this lends itself to the belief that poverty brings you happiness. I have lived in poverty too and I certainly wasn’t happy then either. All money does is take care of money problems and that is just one problem in a long line of problems.

In my opinion and I speak only for myself here, I have to always be very careful of the inner dialogue in my head. Thoughts lead to words, words lead to actions and actions lead to repercussions. I need to work hard that the inner dialogue in my head is a positive one and catch myself when negative voices start taking control. It is very easy to let bitterness, cynicism and a moaning voice take over and this way of thinking will ensure my life goes exactly in the direction that train of thought steers me in. You are in control of the way you think, you always have been and always will be. No one lets negativity into your mind except you; you are the master of your own mind and therefore your own future. The critic inside is always more dangerous that the critic outside. When you determine that your life is going to be a certain way, truly believe it and more importantly act on these thoughts, then it is inevitable that this will happen. But most people give up when it isn’t happening straight away and find solace in believing life is easier for others or that the world is against them.

Never pity yourself. What other people think of you is none of your business. You have the same number of hours, minutes, and seconds in your day as anyone else. Oprah Winfrey doesn’t have any more than you, or Conor McGregor or an Olympic Medallist. It is what we choose to do with this time is what determines whether you achieve your goals or not. Confucius said “Those who say they can and those who say they can’t are both usually right”. If you have a goal in life; to work in Africa, to run a marathon, to be a brilliant parent, to open your own business, then make the decision and just do it. It really is as simple as that. You are unique and are on this earth for a reason; find the reason and show your uniqueness. One thing I have noticed in life is that like attracts like. If you are positive, you attract positive people around you and likewise if you are negative, negative people will be attracted to you. So be careful of the inner dialogue in your mind, because your mind will always find a comfort zone in positivity or negativity. For those young people who have just got their Leaving Cert results, irrespective of how you have done, the world is your oyster. Go out and get it, make yourself proud before anyone else, live rather be living. Your dreams are like parachutes and they only take flight when they are opened. And always remember; You are the painter, the paint, the canvas and the brush of how your life will unfold.

The Inner Dialogue was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

3 Questions

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Diarmuid Hudner
CEO of Cybersmarties Ltd.

“Humans don’t have eyes on the back of their heads for a reason…you can’t move forward if you’re continually looking back”
From the novel “Im Happy Now.Com”

I was listening to a radio program recently as I drove home from work which told the story of a man living along the border during The Troubles. This man, a farmer by profession, said that on his journey to and from his farm, which spanned both sides of the border, he was continuously stopped by army patrols asking him the same three questions.

Where have you come from?
What are you doing now?
Where are you going?

As I listened to this man recount these questions over and over, I thought to myself that, albeit yes, it must have been extremely annoying for the farmer, but on a different level, the questions themselves could be used for an altogether different purpose. I thought if we asked ourselves these same three questions in relation to our lives, what answers would we give?

Take the first question. Where have I come from? Think back about all the decisions you have made in your past to bring you to this point in your life today. Are there things you would have done differently? Different choices you would have made? Things you would have said but didn’t? Would the “one who got away” have got away? Was the faraway field any greener? When many of us look back at our past, we see the things we didn’t do, the life we could have had if only this or that had happened. Few of us look back at the massive amount we have achieved, the struggles we have overcome, the family losses we have learned to live with, the love lost as soon as won, the disappointments, the courage it has taken to get up every morning, despite all the setbacks, despite all the pain and obstacles, despite it all and still kept going on. Truth is, we can’t change our past, you will never breathe the same air you did a moment ago and yet sometimes old ghosts need to be put back in their closet in order to move on. To me we are not defined by what has happened in our past or the choices, good or bad, we have made; We are defined by the choices we make today because that is all we have control over. You cannot put back together a broken egg but you can still make an omelette out of it. Give yourself credit just for being here today, you are a success, despite everything, you are still fighting the good fight.

Let’s take the second question. What are you doing now? This I felt is an interesting one. Are you where you expected to be at this point in your life? Have you exceeded or fallen behind your expectations of yourself? My friend and author, Alan White, recently wrote in a blog for Creagh Castle Publishing, that we all have a negative or positive perspective on things, people and situations based on what has happened in our lives and the environment we grew up in. I agree with Alan on this. I must have been looking the other way when God was handing out the optimism cards that day because I don’t remember being given any. I struggle with it. I don’t bound out of bed every morning with the joys of Spring, rushing to take on the world with a smile on my face. I have to work at it, tell myself throughout each day to keep going no matter what happens. However I do find that over time I don’t have to tell myself as often or struggle so hard to convince myself because I do believe that we have the power to change our circumstances at any given moment. We have a choice in every situation to look at things in either a positive or negative way, to keep bouncing like a cork on the crest of a wave and to never go under. So I choose to look at the second question in a positive way because where I am today is not necessarily where I am going to be in the future but it’s up to me.

This leads us to the third question. Where are you going? The motivational speaker Zig Ziglar (yes he must also have been looking the other way when God was handing out names) asked the question “How can you hit a target you cannot see?” Yet nearly every major human endeavour or goal ever achieved was born out of such short-sightedness. The answer to this question is that it is possible to hit a target you cannot see. This is where hope comes in. However you will never hit a target if you don’t have one. I believe that the Universe alters or changes with you when you change. If you decide and then take action towards a goal, your mind and perspective will move you in line towards it. An example is a car that you might fancy buying. If you like the look of, for example an Audi A6, then you will see them everywhere; not because there are more of them around but because you have reprogrammed your mind to focus on them and where focus goes, energy flows. This how Cybersmarties happened, one idea, lots of focus and now we are helping children through behavioural technology to use social media in an entirely new way. We couldn’t see that target either.

I always think there are little messages being given to us every day; like these three questions I heard on the radio, these messages can make one reflect on how far one has come, where one is and where one hopes to be. The power lies in the decisions we make today and the commitment to see those decisions through. I truly believe that power is within us all and that’s what we tell children on Cybersmarties, every day, through positive messages; there is nothing they cannot do. P.S Big congratulations to our adopted Chinese Systems Administrator, Wenqian Xu on passing his driving test in Ireland first time, unlike his boss who took a little longer. He hasn’t quite got the Audi A6 yet so The Cybersmarties Team emptied our wallets and bought him a toy Fiat Punto instead. From small acorns…

3 Questions was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

A future day with Cybersmarties

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Wenqian Xu
System Administrator of Cybersmarties Ltd.

As a technical guy, I always believe that it’s better to do more rather than talk more. Personally, I seldom promise things unless I have 80% or 90% chance of getting something done. However, what I want to do in this blog is to free my imagination and share something in my mind about what Cybersmarties is working towards. By the way, some good ideas are not from me, they are from members of the Team here at Cybersmarties.

As you know, Cybersmarties is a safe educational social network specifically for primary school kids. The age of our users is between 6 and 12. Students at such an age are naturally curious about everything. They love to experiment whether things are good or bad. As I mentioned in my previous blog – “Educate rather than Punish”, young kids are naturally kind or as in my home country of China, we refer to it as of “pure white” paper. No matter what you draw, your feelings will reveal themselves in the corresponding colors and pictures eventually. So, we need only to provide a completely safe environment for them to grow up, not only in reality, but also on the Internet. The best way to do that is to create a locked-down environment. The first step is to restrict the network just to kids, who are authenticated through schools as being real kids. But in our view, in the future, there must be a way to identify each person. To prove kids are real kids, parents are real parents, teachers are real teachers, we probably need to use kinds of “cross-verified technology” with unique biological information like fingerprint, facial recognition etc.

Very soon, the Cybersmarties world will be formed into two parts – Cybersmarties School and Cybersmarties Home. Based on research, it’s not enough for kids to form good behavior only during school time. Actually, kids will spend almost half of their time at home. This is why we developed the Fully Monitored Version of Cybersmarties.

In Cybersmarties Home, kids receive every morning an inspired message, pictures, videos or to be even more interactive, like VR (virtual reality). Our System can automatically give some suggestions based on agenda, today’s temperature, festival events information etc. With certain wearable devices (smart watch etc.), it can also combine health data (heart rate, sleep data etc.) to send alerts to parents about their kids. At the same time, parents will also receive some useful tips about kids welfare. Topics will be picked up based on parents’ own browser history and corresponding keyword trends from search engines. Of course, all content will be finally checked by Cybersmarties Experts before delivering to both parents and kids in order to make sure they’re all suitable and appropriate.

In the Cybersmarties School version, Teachers and Kids will have two kinds of roles in the system. Cybersmarties School will be highly integrated with the school curriculum. Before every class begins, a reminder will be delivered with class information and notes from teachers to kids. So, kids can prepare in advance what is better and convenient for their learning. With an improved Reward system, teachers can reward kids if they have done something good or showed excellent behavior. And vice versa, kids will lose some points because of bad or inappropriate behavior. All these points decide whether kids can play more games in the Cybersmarties Game Playground. Also, some certifications will also be delivered based on each kids’ accounts. (Sounds like Hogwarts in Harry Potter, doesn’t it? This idea is originally from Brendan Woodage, Operation Manager of Cybersmarties.com). After each class, teachers can use Cybersmarties Homework system to leave homework for kids which is available from September. So, for kids, they don’t have to worry about losing their homework anymore because they can check their own homework at any time and any place if they use Cybersmarties (This idea is originally from Diarmuid Hudner, CEO of Cybersmarties.com). Furthermore, SMART content filter system will be much “smarter”. It will not simply pick up inappropriate words based on sentiment analysis engine, with each reminder, it also contains corresponding suggestions with appropriate words. In some typical scenarios, videos with results of kids using such positive words will be displayed. Or with the help of the VR device, a VR video will let kids see the result more interactively making it more real. All these methods will educate kids better, teach them how to use social networks properly and form better behavior and relationships online with their friends. We have also introduced a Coding System for schools (available from September) which teaches kids how to code using fun interactive games through our Coding Partner in the US.

In conclusion, some of assumptions above will become reality very soon or are already a reality, but some are not easy to implement. However, finding a way to deal with cyberbullying is still a long journey for all of us. But it’s necessary and worthwhile to investigate and try. The aim of the Cybersmarties Team is to be a global pioneer in anti-cyberbullying and always do our best to educate kids in making social media be an engaging, safe and enriching experience for the future. Thank you.

A future day with Cybersmarties was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Just has to be done

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Wenqian Xu
System Administrator of Cybersmarties Ltd.

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.” – Bil Keane

Many people are always worried about something. For instance, in the morning people are worried about the heavy traffic which might cause them to be late for work; During work, people are worried about other people’s opinions and trying to guess what is on someone’s mind; After work, people are worried about choosing dinner. Even before sleep, people are still worried about sleeping in the next morning which will make them late for work etc. Such a life is like a “perfect” circle, if you get lost in it, it’s very hard to shake off.

“Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.” – Swedish Proverb

I myself had such an experience just in this month. At the beginning of June, I finally finished all my essential 12 lessons to obtain a full Irish driving license. It took quite a long time, almost every weekend. Although I hold a driving license in my home country of China, I needed to get used to driving on the left because I am used to driving on the right. For one hour each week, I tried to remember all the rules of the road (like how to enter a roundabout properly etc.). So, the only thing on my mind was to pass the driving test as soon as possible just in case I forget the skills and knowledge which I learnt from my driving instructor. Upon completion of my lessons I applied to sit my full driving test. However, after two weeks I heard nothing, no emails, no calls, nothing. So here was where the worrying started. At that time, I was starting to make lots of “strange” assumptions – Is something wrong with my application? Did I choose a wrong available date for the test? etc. After work, the first thing I did when I got back home was to check the RSA website, log in to my account and check my application status. To be honest, just looking back at it now, it reminds me of a quote from Leo Buscaglia –

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

So, what made me finally stop worrying was a talk with my boss – Diarmuid Hudner. Actually just one sentence which he usually says, simple but powerful –

“Just has to be done.”

Taking the above as an example, just thinking about passing the driving test is a thing which “just has to be done.” If something is wrong with my application, the driving test centre will eventually notify me to correct it. If I choose the wrong available date for a test, at least there are some days I can choose which would be suitable. According to the rules, when I get the test date, I still have 2 opportunities to reschedule for free. I also ask myself, is there anything I can do that I haven’t done? The answer is no. So, the only thing left is patience and leave it be.

This methodology also works in relation to everyday worries as discussed in my first paragraph. “Starting work on time” is a thing which just has to be done. Why not get up earlier or prepare everything the night before in order to save time in the morning? Furthermore, lots of research reveals that trying to read someone’s mind usually doesn’t work too well at all. So, why not communicate and ask what you want to ask? You might say it won’t be so easy in real life which I totally understand and agree with. But… at least it’s one way which can help us stop worrying and stay positive, isn’t it? And it works for me.

So, no more worries, things just have to be done. If something happens, find a solution to solve it. That’s it. Simple but powerful.

In the end, as a technical guy, it’s my first time to write something about psychology and methodology. Hope you like it and hope it helps you too. Thank you very much.

Just has to be done was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog