Dammit I’m Happy

I would characterize my life in phases, chunks of time when certain things be preoccupied on my mind. In the past they were about trying new things, video games, girls, career success, friends. But for the past few weeks it has been about my character.

This semester so many friends have been stressing out, figuring out how to best use their time. Adam Grant came to give a talk about Barry Schwartz leaving Swarthmore, and he quoted a line from Barry that really stuck with me:

“I’ve only had one job and one girlfriend, but dammit I’m happy”

The question of how can I become happy, how can I just be satisfied with “good enough” and not be constantly worried about achieving the best has converted from a moral, internal question into resource allocation question. How can I serve the greatest number of people? How can I make the biggest impact? These questions always lead to a lot of stress, and being genuinely satisfied with life requires lowering your expectations. Not in the sense that you just want to sit on your ass all day because you don’t have any goals for yourself. But in the sense that if you have all these expectations for yourself and other people in your life, you won’t be able to experience the pleasant surprises in life. Life is pretty damn random and trying to plan so far into the future is like throwing a fucking fortune cookie into a black hole, hoping that somehow the fortune cookie will magically come out unscathed and end back in your hands. Things change so much, and when you carve your epitaph, major, and career decision onto your tombstone when you are an 18 year old freshmen in college,  you will never be able to be present and experience the pleasant surprise of change. 

I think the people we should pay attention to are those who are passionate not just about some subject matter, some hobby, but about life. Maybe they do have hopes and expectations for the future, but if things don’t turn out the way they expected it to, they are fine with it. Or in other words, they are confident that they will be happy whatever the outcome is.

So how does this relate to character? I feel that a sustainable goal for college, and more importantly for the rest of my life, will be to develop a sense of depth in my character. I want to engage in an effort to magnify what is best in myself and also become strong in my weakest places. Overcome the bad parts of my character that have been repeating too many times in my life like selfishness and thoughtlessness. As David Brooks puts it, wise people who have lived their lives to ultimately improve their character possess the self-effacing virtues of people who are inclined to be useful but don’t need to prove anything to the world: humility, restraint, reticence, temperance, respect, and soft self-discipline. And I feel that this is a sustainable goal for happiness because I will not be phased by external pressures and expectations to succeed. The means to achieving this goal is simply to live. To experience failure, rejection, then be able to laugh about it not because you came out healed, but because you came out different. These scars will be a constant reminder to me that I was present to experience these events in my life, and they will ultimately be a part of my character. Furthermore, I think that things like career success (while important) are like good looks, they will eventually fade and what is left is the character.

I feel that these resource allocation questions, trying to decide a policy now for the rest of your life, will never lead to satisfaction because you will always be thinking about what you had to sacrifice in order to do that one thing. Feeling guilty for spending time with your friends because you prescribed that you had to attain some GPA seems like a sad way to spend your time in college.

Life is not an optimization problem. 

I think focusing on living my life as a means to deepen my sense of compassion, integrity, and character will be a way for me not only to do good, but be good. The journey along the way will be filled with bumps, but dammit I’ll be happy.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You

“What goals do you want to accomplish this summer?”

Huh. I was surprised that I didn’t have an answer to this. For the past few years of my life, I have set goals for myself for big blocks of time like this. I had an idea of what I wanted to do this summer, travel to another country – probably couch surf with locals and get to know them, spend some time at monasteries to meditate, and write a lot more. But goals-wise, I was blank. Sitting down outside thinking about this question, I started to realize that I was getting a little too comfortable. So I just finished the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, a book I borrowed from the same friend who asked me this question, and it has sort of been a wake up call, changing the way I view my goals and future.

Rule #1: Don’t follow your passion

So reading this made me reminiscent of this post I made over winter break: Don’t Pursue Your Dreams. The passion hypothesis – this hypothesis claims that they key to occupational happiness is to first figure out what you’re passionate about and then find a job that matches this passion. Cal Newport goes on to talk about how this passion hypothesis is not only false but also potentially dangerous. Passion comes from first actually being good at something. Half-assedly dabbing yourself in multiple activities trying to figure out what to put your time into, trying to figure out what you’re “passionate” about is an act of innocent optimism that will lead to life a confusion as you are constantly wondering where your passions lie while time passes. And at the end of the day you don’t have anything valuable to offer.

Rule #2: Be so good they can’t ignore you

Be so good they can’t ignore you is the phrase Cal uses to talk about building career capital, a term he coined to describe the skills you have that are rare and valuable to to the working world. Having a substantive career capital is the key for creating the work you love. This rule resonated the most with me because it was essentially a wake up call that while I want a bunch of shortcuts in my life, if I want to cultivate a substantive arsenal of value I can offer to the world, hard work is necessary. I know I have talked about this before in my posts, but I feel that this drive and grit has subsided a bit during break. And it’s time for that to change. Thinking about the skills that I have are rare and valuable, I don’t have much really haha. These are currently the skills most important to me which I consider are rare and valuable: writing, meditating, and learning. So one way I have changed after reading this book is the way I view my time at Swarthmore. I’m going to be that student that uses his time in college to cultivate an extremely strong foundation of career capital up to the point where I am confident that I can find opportunities to get paid for doing things anytime I want. I want to be the first person people think of when they’re thinking that they need a person to do ____.

Deliberate Practice: The style of difficult practice required to continue to improve at a task. Deliberate practice requires you to stretch past where you are comfortable and then receive ruthless feedback on your performance. In the context of career construction, most knowledge workers avoid this style of skill development because, quite frankly, it’s uncomfortable. To build up large stores of career capital, however, which is necessary for creating work you love, you must make this style of practice a regular part of your work routine. This is the type of practice that I have subjected myself to as a musician and an athlete, and reading Cal talk about it really substantiated this type of practice in the skills I want to develop like writing and programming.

Rule #3: Turn Down a Promotion (Control)

So this rule is mainly about the importance of control when creating the work you love. I don’t have much to say about this yet since I’m building the career capital in my life. But Cal warns readers of the dangers of trying to introduce more control into your working life when you have not acquired enough career capital. Which tl;dr means not to demand too much control in your life if you don’t have any actual skills to back yourself up.

Rule #4: Think Small, Act Big (Mission)

A mission is another important trait to acquire with your career capital when creating work you love. It provides a unifying goal for your career. It provides a unifying goal for your career. It’s more general than a specific job and can span multiple positions. It provides an answer to the question “What should I do with my life?” The unifying glue that connects everything I’m doing in my life. Blogging and journaling have definitely helped me become more in touch with myself, and my mission right now is to master all the difficult challenges in my life. I go more in depth into this as well in my post: Don’t Pursue Your Dreams.

I don’t want to be the person who graduates college searching for the ultimate job for myself. I don’t want to be the person who spends time thinking about a career that sounds appealing to me. I want to be the person who comes out of college, hell this semester with rare and valuable skills that will make me compelling. So what do I want to accomplish this summer? I want to write a lot more, especially in the vein of self-help posts that have a lot of popularity on this blog. I also want to write about my experiences living in another country, vigorously reaching out for feedback so that I can improve my writing to the point where other people want me to write for them. And you know me, I’ll always be playing music and programming on the side >:)

Thanks for the wake up call.

Let’s go.

Fisherman

“Where are you going, honey?”
“I’m going out to the lake again”
“You’ve been at this for months now, and you haven’t caught anything yet.”
“Today is going to be different, I just know it.”
“Well alright I hope you have fun, dear.”

He walked to his car with his hands in his back pockets. He sat down and rolled down the frosted windows. Eyes closed, forcing a smile on his face he took the deepest breath he had ever taken in his life.

“Today is going to be different.”

By now he knew the drive to the lake like the back of his hand. But today he was not on autopilot while driving. He had his eyes wide open while driving, fully alert. Waving at the drivers in the cars next door, wishing them well in their day. A driver had aggressively cut in his lane without signaling. Before, he would have gotten angry and flipped the driver off. But today he tried to understand – maybe that driver has to reach the hospital.

“Today is going to be different.”

He parked by the restaurant where the concrete road and grassy entrance to the lake met. Today was the first time he actually took the time to realize the beauty of this intersection. Above the roads was a hazy yellow and gray, there was a heavy fog blurring the street lights. But where the street lights didn’t reach, the lake was lit up with the lanterns other fisherman carried with them on their boats. He put his fishing rods, bait, and timer into his boat and transported it to the lake.

Waiting on the lake surface for four hours now, nothing was biting yet. But he believed, believed that today would be the day he gets his first catch. He imagined, thought of how happy he would be to tell his wife the news that he had caught something today! He blushed at the thought of his wife congratulating him. Oh man how great he would feel. Just then it so happened that he felt a pull on one of his lines. Ecstatic. Excited. Surprised. He jumped off his seat and grabbed the fishing pole. Was it a small or big fish? The pull was quite strong. As he was reeling in and pulling the pole back again he thought of how he would have a dorky grin spread across his face, chuckling about how he had his first success. He pulled and reeled, the resistance was getting stronger. He was starting to sweat now. His hands started to get sore and then felt a sudden push forward. Pushed to the end of his boat, his stomach hit it’s wall. His pole had snapped and the fish had gotten away. Sweating, panting, he sat back down in his seat and kicked his feet up onto his backpack.

“Well”

He had been trying to catch something for seven months now. Looking out into the the rest of the lake wrapped by the heaviness of the fog, he sighed.

He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, then sighed again. He wouldn’t be going back home with fish to brag about to his wife. He wouldn’t have be smiling on the drive back home. Today was in fact just like the past 200 days where he would come back empty handed. Today was not different. He did know that he had to come back tomorrow, try something new. Maybe practice different reeling techniques. He knew that he would eventually catch something, but after the past 200 tries, today, he was tired.

With his feet still perched up on the backpack he folded his arms on top of his head and closed his eyes. Exhausted, he quietly dozed off into a deep sleep.

Spring Break: How I’ve Been and What’s Next

Too many people at Swarthmore fall into the monotonous routine of always studying, so I’m going to make these posts every break to check in with myself and make sure I’m always spicing things up and tackling something new.

Starting from the first semester, I have been able to diet pretty well and stick to a regular exercise routine. I was able to steadily lose 20 pounds, and now I want to play with my weight. I want to challenge myself and see how well I can gain twenty pounds  before the semester because I am pretty confident with my discipline to diet and exercise. The idea of playing with my body weight seems very appealing to me because I would be able to prove to myself that I have control over my physical body. But gaining weight is fairly easy for me, it just means eating more food and working out more – I can already see my belly rounding up 🙂 Also this requires a change in lifestyle, I need to budget my money differently as I might be spending more on food, I need to eat more both in volume and protein intake. The real challenge is after my bulk, when I have to slim back down while keeping my same strength. This will also entail a lifestyle change which will be a nice change of pace.

I recently made a deal with my friends that will last for the rest of our lives: Every time one of us eats candy, all of us have to miss our next meal. Many people have said that this is outrageous, and it is pretty outrageous. But this is one way for us to cut out candy from our lives forever, and to be honest it is quite fun to uphold!

So most of the new things that I have started this semester were lifestyle changes to improve and take control over my health. Academically, I am getting used to the workload of Swarthmore and have pretty much killed procrastination from my life. One thing that I started doing less though was going to professors office hours, there isn’t really much of an excuse for this so I will set the times in my calendar to make sure I attend them.

I have also gotten more into poetry and freestyle rapping! So hitting these goals from last semester’s fall break post. I have also been writing a lot more, especially in my journal, and I’m glad that this has become part of my lifestyle. Damn this feels pretty great, visibly seeing progress and making the goals I wanted to achieve last semester into habits!

What I want now:

“If I were to describe you in word, it would be mellow.”

Shit. That was my reaction when a friend visiting said this to me. Ever since coming to Swarthmore, I do feel that I have become more mellow. More accepting of things and as my friends have commented – I always have a half smile, half stoic face. I don’t really want to be mellow though, I want to have a more exciting personality. I have also been told that I have a poker face most of the time so I want to work on being more physically expressive.

I want to try writing fiction. I think that writing styles force you think and write in different ways. With poetry, you have the idea of rhyming and a sense of obscurity in the back of your head. With fiction, I would have the freedom of telling my story through multiple characters, setting, plot twists, etc.