The Fallacy of Self Discovery

Metaphors give shape to mystery, and the metaphor of self-discovery has driven me to try many new things, like going to Asia to live a monastic life. However, it is this exact metaphor that has driven me around in circles – chasing an ideal that did not yet exist.

Discovery carries an implicit suggestion that, somewhere in our mind’s recesses or in data outside the mind, there is something waiting to be discovered. For a writer, the metaphor of discovery pushes forward that writing is a way to bring that something out. But recently I’ve been exposed to the idea that using this metaphor to teach the creative process bears its own limitations.

Because discovery emphasizes the rather glamorous experience of “Eureka, now I see it,” it obscures the fact that writers don’t find meanings, they make them.

A writer in the act of discovery is hard at work searching memory, forming concepts, and forging a new structure of ideas, while at the same time trying to juggle all the constraints imposed by his or her purpose, audience, and language itself. – Linda Flower and John R. Hayes

The idea of self-discovery has become such a sexy experience to be sought for that we’ve lost sight of what it means to create meaning ourselves. What do I mean by this? We aren’t born with shit, and we’re the ones responsible for creating the meaning we are searching for. Someone asked me what I discovered about myself during my stay in monasteries in Asia. Did you discover that you are more introverted than extroverted? Did you discover that you like meditation? Did you discover the meaning of life? 

I call bullshit. Your “true self” isn’t out there floating in winter wonderland waiting to be magically “discovered.” But to your last question, I did discover the meaning of life. I discovered that the very path you’re walking now will determine how you will end up in the future. You aren’t living your life to “discover” what you want to ultimately become. Every second you are alive, you are creating the tale of your life. If you’re doing X, Y, and Z everyday but expect to see something different in the mirror when you wake up, you’ll be in for a surprise. What you’ll see is what you’ll get. Whether it’s going to suck or not though is a completely different story.

Discovering your passions by trying out a bunch of random things sounds like a crapshoot to me. I strongly believe that you create your own passions. The more you commit to something, the more meaning you will create – then you will have discovered your passion. But this passion wasn’t hiding in the “deep recesses of your mind”, it had not even existed until you took the steps to create it.

The myth of discovery implies a method, and this method is based on the premise that hidden stores of insight and ready-made ideas exist, buried in the mind of the writer, waiting only to be “discovered.” Or they are to be found in books and data if only the enterprising researcher knows where to look. What does one do when a ready-made answer can’t be found in external sources? The myth says, “look to your own experience.” But what happens when a writer on this internal voyage of discovery still can’t “find” something to say because his or her “ideas” as such are not actually formed? – Linda Flower and John R. Hayes

So is there a method to self discovery?

I must disagree.

What does one do when a ready-made answer can’t be found in external sources? Well, shit. I’ve felt the exact same way when I first came to college. Nobody grew up like me, nobody thought in the same way I was thinking. How was I going to find my “why” in college? The myth says “look to your own experience.” But that felt like randomly casting a fishing hook out into the ocean, waiting for something to bite. I was frantically searching through my experiences to find an answer, when in fact the answer had never actually formed in the first place.

Growing up is strange, but don’t commit your effort searching for meaning and self-discovery. Because chances are, you’ll have to create those discoveries yourself.


 

Check out the paper: The Cognition of Discovery: Defining a Rhetorical Problem

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It’s Time To Move Forward

One year ago, I started this blog mainly to sort out my insecurities and why I chose to go to Swarthmore. I was honest with myself because I never intended to share it with anybody, and over the year, this honesty has come more naturally the more I write. In this blog’s first post, I stated that reading other people’s experiences online had helped me in my life, so I wanted to contribute to that community.

In reality though, I didn’t know what I was talking about, I didn’t know what writing for other people meant. I wrote for myself, to sort out my problems and maybe share them with other people.

But shit is different now.

This past year has felt like a hyperbolic time chamber. I remember thinking how disappointed I would be if I came out of college the exactly way as I did in high school. But things have definitely changed.

hyperbolic
Hyperbolic Time Chamber (Dragon Ball Z)

I used to hate writing – blogging was a chore I challenged myself with to open up. Now writing has become a part of my lifestyle – waking up in the middle of the night to write, writing before homework, writing before sleeping.

I used to read because it would make me look smart, picking up trendy books about self improvement and pop psychology successful entrepreneurs shared. Now I share an appreciation for literature and understand the unbreakable harmony of reading and writing.

Now I have friends who don’t just do amazing things like win awards and make money. I have friends with personalities that inspire me, and hanging out with them feels like the fabric of our existences are weaving together and pushing outward together to grow.

I used to think of self-improvement as a solo mission, but you can only achieve so much alone. Within a genuine community, the selfish energy of achievement dissolves and harmonious successes amplify to create completely unimaginable things together like the reverberating overtone of multiple tuning forks.

Going Back: Why I started this blog

When I first started this blog, I had to choose a title and tagline. I asked myself before: “What do I want other people to see me as? Or what do I value in my life? They will probably change, but for now:”

Title: Becoming Interesting

Tagline: My reflections as I seek passion and relevancy.

So far, this blog has very accurately paralleled my life. First starting off with a lot of confusion and insecurity at Swarthmore, then moving into a strong phase of discipline and self-improvement. Late 2015 writing about my self-progress at school and some embarrassing sprinklings of romance talk. Early 2016 exploring eastern schools of thought, moving into my own theories of combing Asian philosophies. And Mid-2016 summer writing about my monastic life experience in Japan and Asia.

I appreciate this parallelism especially because when reading old posts, I can see myself progressing and moving forward with time. But I think the idea of always progressing in life can be harmful, so I prefer the term moving forward with time. More importantly, it is not my achievements moving forward, but rather my personality, which I think is what truly defines people.

Looking back at the taglines

My reflections as I seek passion. The most significant realization I had this past year was my naiveté towards the idea of “seeking a passion.” What really grounded me was a sense of purpose to challenge myself in all aspects of my life. Now, however, I feel that I have solved this passion problem and it’s time to move on to the next challenges.

I would characterize this past year as period of really questioning if I did things just because they were sexy. This past year I challenged my obsession and ultimately insecurity for success, and I realized that cultivating a pure personality of integrity is much more important to me.

But this past year, there were definitely times where I have slipped up. Thoughts, intentions, actions that I regret. And it’s time for a change. No more dishonesty, especially with myself. I would shy away from truly opening up because that would leave me vulnerable. But like I said, it’s about time I moved forward.

My reflections as I seek relevancy.  I was getting too ahead of myself when I first said this a year ago, I didn’t know what this really meant. But I’ve been starting to get a taste of what it means to be part of a community, not just living in the solo self-improvement mindset all the time. So this is something that I will continue to reflect on.

This is a small thing, but I think a good way to symbolize this move forward is to update my tagline. This relates to my previous post Finding Home where I talk about how you shouldn’t think of a commitment as losing something. It is fulfilling because it pushes you to do more. Self discipline was not a one year phase as it has become the core of my existence, and it will continue throughout the rest of my life. But this year marks my shift of focus to commitment. What is commitment, and what does it mean to me? To others?

As for the title, Becoming Interesting has grown on me 🙂

Becoming Interesting

Committing to honesty. My reflections as I seek relevancy.

In a month I’ll be beginning my second year of college. But no way am I going back to school, things have changed and I won’t be repeating the same mistakes ever again.

It’s time to move forward.

 

Don’t Pursue Your Dreams

2015 has been the worst year of my life. My mother stopped speaking to me. I had thrown her high expectations of me going to a big reputable school out the window. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do anymore.

I didn’t know what I was supposed to do anymore.

One time she turned to me “what are you doing with your  life?” Then I turned inside, at myself “what am I doing with my life?”

All this time throughout high school, I was pursuing my dreams. I took every AP science test, I studied for the SATs, I was the president of an active club. I was lining up the dots, I was pursuing my dreams! Even though it was tough at times, I knew exactly what I was supposed to do.

Self Reflection

After high school, I thrust myself into a world of unknown. Not the unknowns of science, not the unknowns of somebody else’s world – but the unknowns of my own world. And it was empty. I looked around, and I only saw other people. Billionaires glorified in the Silicon Valley. Doctors my parents wanted me to become. I couldn’t even see my own reflection in my own body. Four years ago, this would have been great, even comforting. I just had to follow what other people told me to do, continue to meet the expectations other had for me, then I would be successful.

But now, it was scary. It was scary because I decided to make my own path. I couldn’t find a set tutorial on Google. I couldn’t figure out what to do next like how I followed YouTube tutorials to solve the Rubik’s cube. Even on Quora, I would read stories of all these successful people, but none of them would exactly match mine. In high school, I thought I was making myself stand out and be unique, but in the bigger picture, I was just doing what everybody else was doing. So it was time to buckle down and really figure out why I’m doing things.

Don’t pursue your dreams, pursue your purpose.

Dreams derive from the successful people around you. Purpose derives from self reflection. Pursuing a purpose means that even when shit hits the fan, when you lose everything, when nobody is around to watch, you keep going because that’s the only thing you truly have. The way we teach goals and dreams are wrong. Dreams are tied to professions, salaries, fames. We teach and motivate kids to become doctors, lawyers, when that can result in them mindlessly working for the rest of their lives. Since purposes are not domain specific they can permeate to any profession, daily routines, relationships with other people, attitude towards life – ultimately every aspect of life. The people whose purposes are so strong you can feel it in every interaction with them are the ones that are interesting. And I’m starting to understand what it means to become interesting (it’s the title of my blog!)

Understand the underlying patterns in the things you actually do

I enjoy putting myself through challenges: physical, mental, philosophical, and this has become extremely evident in the types of books I’ve been reading, the kinds of people I follow on Quora, and the things I like to talk about. I enjoy learning new things, especially when I can not currently see myself able to do those things. So my purpose is mastering the hard challenges I see in myself now, and also those that I have yet to encounter. For me, realizing this purpose feels like there is no other way for me to live. The purpose of my life, of my humanity is to master the hard things. Get defeated, maybe even discouraged by the new challenges that arise, then do it again.

So 2015 has been the worst year of my life. 2016, 2017, 2018, … will also be the worst years of my life. They will suck so much because every new day, every new year, I will be questioning what I’m doing. They will suck because I won’t always have the answers. The coming years will suck and be hard because that’s exactly how I want to live.

Now I encourage you to self reflect, you will have to for the rest of your life. Ask why you are doing things, then what you are going to do now. When you can’t find the answers, create your own answers, then share them.

 


 

 

I feel my poem The Cave is especially relevant to this, so feel free to read:

The Cave
It’s the world’s most comfortable place
Comfort zones suck they say, we have to get out
It’s not as simple as it sounds though
It’s not as simple as “stepping out”
It’s so engrained into our brains
It’s engrained in the very essence of our society
Meritocracy, bureaucracy, even our beloved democracy
Each world has a cave of its own
With prizes, titles, time slots to play in a Carnegie Hall recital
To become the president, get tenure, become Silicon Valley’s next billionaire
To enter the elite bubble, stay up there in the untouchable haven
Finding a job will be easy, I’ll have money, It’s so great to be at the top
It’s every high schoolers dream to penetrate those bubbles into Cambridge and New Haven
I know that’s when I’ll have everything on lock
I had to step out my comfort zone to get there
What’s wrong with that?
Nothing is. After all, all we really can see are those dancing shadows
We choose our cave, climb to the top, fight our uphill battles
There really isn’t anything wrong with that though,
People live such happy lives basing it on that
But maybe it’s the comfort of climbing that has made those caves so damn binding

 

Contributing to the world, as myself

What would not get done if you were not here?

Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be myself, to actually have things that I stand for and believe in. I fell upon this question while reading Improv Wisdom this morning, and was wondering that if I were asked this question in high school, I wouldn’t have had an answer. I think this is an important question to think about too, so you should take some time right now to think about it! If I was not in high school, people would have continued prepping for standardized test, doing extracurriculars, etc. I think that I can now pinpoint this to a specific thing – competition. Competition is a rat race, if somebody drops out, that’s just one less person to worry about, right? So let’s go back to the question, when you are competing in something (college admissions, interviewing for internships, etc.) you’re not really adding anything unique.

Consider your unique vantage point, your talents, your loves, what you have been given to do. What are you here to do?

Competition is a zero sum game. Not many people remember the losers, which sucks. For myself, I think that if I continued competing, climbing some corporate ladder for my whole life, I would never be able to answer the question: what would not get done if I were not here? But I do have answers to that now. For one, this blog. If I were not here, nobody would be writing this blog. To show my unique vantage point, talent, passions, loves, my purpose, I have to create. In my philosophy seminar this semester, although everybody was reading the same texts everybody would contribute different and unique perspectives every class. Depending on how we were raised, what environment we put ourselves in, different things are more apparent to us. So by participating in a class discussion, posting your thoughts on the internet, filming YouTube videos, making a movie, or whatever creative medium you choose, you are doing something that nobody else could do.

So here’s my idea: Don’t compete, create.

I’m going to adapt this from an answer I read on Quora. Let’s say that 100 people spend 100 units of energy each competing for some award. In the end, there is only winner, so only 100 units of energy (out of 10,000 units) are recognized. If everybody decided to go out on their own and try to create something, they could’ve each spent the 100 units of energy making something unique. That’s an overall win win, adding 10,000 units to the world. The effort that you put in will still count for something, even if you don’t win. Furthermore, since everybody was raised differently, everybody has value to add to the world. 

So this is a challenge for myself next year. To spend more time creating, spend more time writing content for my readers because that is something unique to me. And I’ve been practicing a lot of piano improv lately, so I might start uploading my improvisations onto YouTube to I guess make my dent in this world. Writing this, I’m starting to realize I’m mainly using the internet to publicize myself, which might change or grow in the future. Also another big thing I will plan to do is not search and compete for any jobs this coming summer. This is a pretty big jump for me, since I would love to land a nice internship so I can more easily find a job in the future. But I think creating something by myself, making something I can be truly proud of of is more important to me right now than spending time competing for an internship.

So you know what, I’ll go with it. With this mindset, I’m interested to see what kind of future I can pave .

How to not hate your job

It is widely accepted that motivation to do work goes beyond just the paycheck. People don’t work just to get paid, we want to feel challenged, have independence in our work. We want to get good at stuff worth getting good at, serve a purpose larger than us.

Unfortunately, that’s not the reality.

The dreaded nine to five is commonly used to describe the absolute minimum number of hours people have to work a week before they can get the hell out of the office. A 2013 Gallup Poll revealed that around ~90% of Americans either actively hate their jobs or go through their workday mindlessly on autopilot. That’s ninety percent of adults who spend half their lives doing something they don’t want to do.

Barry Schwartz, a psychology professor at Swarthmore, conducted an experiment to study motivation in a group of nursery school children. The children were given time to draw, and Schwartz then awarded some children with a special marker. The next time they were instructed to draw, those awarded with the markers were less likely to draw at all, and drew worse pictures, than those who were not given awards. Children draw because drawing is fun, but introducing a reward took away from that internal fun – it transformed an activity that wasn’t instrumental to an activity that was.

This idea of intrinsic and instrumental activities is interesting. Consider why a painter paints: to produce beautiful art AND to make a living. However, there is an intricate connection between producing beautiful art and painting – the only way to make beautiful art is by painting. Painting and making money, on the other hand, have an instrumental relationship. There are many other ways to make a living, not just through painting.

Isn’t this counterintuitive? Wouldn’t giving people two reasons, rather than one, be more motivating for people? You can draw because it’s fun and there is a reward for outstanding students! You can paint because you can make beautiful paintings and you can make money! You can take this course because it’s interesting, and you can fulfill requirements! Don’t more rewards motivate you to do these activities? No, in fact, the very notion of separating “work” and “play” perpetuates the instrumentalization of activities that we might enjoy. So many people feel miserable about their work because they are making connections between intrinsically and extrinsically related things. There is only one way to make beautiful paintings, and that is by painting.

Classes are fun, they are play. Grading classes turns them into work. The importance of play is that when you are playing, consequences do not matter. Turning something into work (grading) inevitably brings up those consequences. (I need this GPA to get into med school, etc.) In turn, the rewards (higher income, social status, school rankings) shifts the intrinsic fun that came from learning into an instrumental one.  (I should start taking easier classes to boost my GPA), do things that I might not like to achieve a goal. When there is a misaligned connection between intrinsically and extrinsically related activities, people will subject themselves to unpleasant forms of activity of anything but play to achieve that thing.

Let us look at a another example of this happening in the real world. A daycare was having issues with parents coming to pick up their kids too late, so it imposes a fine on parents who come late. They thought that this would give a new reason for parents to pick up their children on time:

Reason 1) Parents have a sense of responsibility for staff and children

(New) Reason 2) They won’t have to pay the fine.

The result? Lateness increased, and when the daycare revoked the fine, the lateness increased even more. After introducing the fine, the responsibility to show up on time was completely thrown out the window, it then became all about personal interests. Sure, I would pay a small fine to come a little later. The worse part is that once the instrumentalization happens, it seems irreversible. This phenomena draws many parallels with the college admissions hustle of high school. For many people, the whole experience of high school was instrumentalized into a process to build up impressive admissions files. Similar to the daycare scenario, we have become, in a sense, jaded to many aspects of school; transformed in a way where the initial desirable motivation – the fun – is lost.

Well, shit.

So how can we achieve a pure form of success solely fueled by fun, internal desires?

Several years ago, Interface, a carpet tile company launched a mission to reduce its carbon footprint to zero. The company was prepared to lose some money because it was going to focus its efforts on upgrading the infrastructure used. However, Interface didn’t lose money, its profits had actually increased by a great margin. Ray Anderson, the founder of Interface, had instilled a sense of civic responsibility among his employees. The workers who just showed up to make money were transformed into people driven to save the world. Employees worked harder and worked more, flattening the hierarchy of the company because supervisors saw how enthusiastic workers were. Supervisors were excited by employees’ motivation to learn more, so employees were offered more leadership roles and autonomy.

Finding and making salient a sense of purpose, whether it be a sense of civic responsibility or a drive to expand and mature your mind, is the key to making the world your playground. The process of finding and aligning with a sense of purpose will permeate throughout all aspects of your life; it will deter you from the common notion of separating your life into work and play. You’re able to throw any instrumental consequences out the window, throw the work out the window. The bigger picture is not learning to make money, it is learning to have fun.

Chasing a Feeling

sam_chasing_a_feeling

On day 4 of my trip to Taiwan, I visited Tamsui (淡水), and that’s where I got a watermelon bucket hat! We took a boat from Tamsui to Bali, a separate island. I thought it was super cool how everything was unified by the easy-card. I could pay for train tickets, food, and now a boat ride with just one card! It’s similar to the Bay Area’s clipper card, which uses NFC, and could probably (if not already) be integrated to add balance from a mobile device.

In Bali, we rented a four-seater bike and rode all around the island. We had no plans, no guides to follow, and no train schedules to keep track of. It was just biking on the island, following whatever looked interesting. We stopped to exercise at public workout stations, biked slowly to watch the city line on the other side disappear into the fog, and rode off trail to get better views. It was fulfilling to be free from the typical touristy trip structure – I have to hit city A, restaurant B, museum C, etc. Rather I was chasing a feeling inherent to those “touristy areas” – the joy of immersing in Taiwan’s nature and culture. The pleasure I would receive from visiting that famous art museum would be quantified by a scale of how fully I participated in the Taiwanese lifestyle there (at least that’s why I travel). And while riding that bicycle, free of any planned stops, I felt that I was chasing a raw curiosity and joy rather than trying to squeeze out enjoyment from lets say a popular museum or a recommended restaurant.

So I’m thinking that for my college experience, I want to chase the feelings. The feeling of challenging why I make certain decisions, the feeling of reflecting on my life (by writing this blog!), and the feeling of truly connecting with other people. I don’t want my life be bound by specific things in college like majors. I find myself not necessarily passionate about a specific subject like Computer Science, but more so passionate about the gears behind that subject like designing new things and logical reasoning. When I was biking in Bali, I ended up in alleys I would have never expected myself entering. As of now, I’m pretty set on studying CS, but who knows, chasing those feelings may lead me elsewhere. Finally, I feel that what’s most important is to not be afraid of ending up somewhere where you would’ve never expected because of the fear of leaving somewhere safe or whatever else.

After all, if you’re chasing a feeling you truly enjoy, won’t you be happy wherever you end up?

Hello world

I thought it was pretty coincidental how the default intro post was titled “Hello World.” I have spent the majority of my senior year exploring Computer Science as an intern at Caviar/Square, and as I am intending to study CS at Swarthmore in August, I thought it was pretty fitting to keep this title as my introduction.

Something that has been on my mind is to start a blog, ever since writing about myself for my college applications, although it was a big drain on time and my mind, I can honestly say that I actually enjoyed it. I had enjoyed reflecting my life in my time alone, but putting those thoughts onto paper was – I guess – substantiating. When others would ask me things like “what matters most to me” or even about the things I valued in myself, I felt confident and comfortable answering. Writing down my thoughts was a way for me to substantiate my identity.

So why am I starting a blog? Couldn’t I just write in my journal and keep it private? I’m not too sure myself, did I want to post my thoughts on the interwebs to gain some sort of attention? The more I think about it, I think it’s for both myself and others. It’s kind of like my experience on reddit, many people have helped me posting stories about themselves, and as I mature and enter college, I want to join that community and share my thoughts — even if hundreds of people read this and resonates with only one person, or on the flipside if nobody reads it, I would be happy. Publishing to the public is also a way for me to discover my relevancy in this life, I want to challenge my values by questioning my thoughts, and I also want to connect with people that care to improve.

I never really would’ve thought of myself as a deeply intellectual person, but I will begin this journey to become one as I matriculate into one of the most intellectually intense communities in the world. Or maybe I’m thinking this way because of the social norms publicized at Swarthmore.

Starting this blog now, I had to choose a title and a tagline. What do I want other people to see me as? Or what do I value in my life? They will probably change, but for now:

Title: Becoming Interesting

Tagline: My reflections as I seek passion and relevancy.