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.
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:
Dad: My blood circulation is getting worse, seems like I’m getting old haha.
Me: Do you know how to fix it?
Dad: Yeah, I need to start exercising.
Me: So why aren’t you exercising?
Dad: I have no motivation.
One thing I’ve been beginning to realize is how much of an unhealthy emphasis we put on motivation, this internal force we believe we need in order to start doing anything. However, this mindset is burdensome because it requires us to be in a certain mental state before we can actually get anything done. Our moods and emotions are always changing too. You can have a newfound motivation to start going to the gym after making your New Year’s resolution in front of all your friends, but this resolution hype will only last you so long. So instead of the usual mental over physical mentality most people talk about, here’s a new theory I’ll go along with in this post.
Be physically present
That’ll get you halfway. Back in my junior and senior year of high school, I was commuting to San Francisco from the Peninsula almost every day to work. Everyday, I would leave the office at around 9:30pm and be pretty tired, definitely not in the right mentality to hit the gym to workout. My brain was tired, I just wanted to go back home and watch YouTube or talk to my friends before heading off to bed. So my mindset became sort of a pair of mental crutches I was trying to support myself on, and they sure as hell wouldn’t be able to bring me to the gym. After a couple weeks of going back in forth in my head, debating whether I should push off the gym or not (ultimately with nothing actually happening), one thing I started to do was just taking the BART (public transportation) directly to the gym, not stopping at home. I was tired as hell, but I walked into the gym. Bright lights shining at me, everybody else was working out. Well, I’m already here right? Being physically present is half the battle. Just being there was more than I could have ever done wasting time debating in my head whether or not I should just go home and rest. Just showing up there took away the “motivation prerequisite” that was holding me back so much. I thought I needed some form of motivation to get pumped and work out, but all I need to do was just show up.
Before walking into the gym, I would drink a cup of black coffee or a pre-workout juice to let my body know that for the next hour, I would be focused on working out. Having a ritual like this made working out into a sort of daily habit that I would do, sort of how many people in the military make their beds every morning as a way to feel organized and start their day. To post in this blog more frequently, I’ve started a ritual where I would take a shower before writing a post. Writing this now, I’ll try making my bed every morning starting tomorrow to start getting in the habit of meditating every morning I wake up. You should think of a good habit you want to get into too, and start to make your bed as a ritual to get into it together with me!
Setting a physical place is to do accomplish other things that don’t necessarily have a designated place (like a gym) also helps a lot. I know for doing work, I go to the common area in our Science Center on campus to get homework done. For writing blog posts at home, I sit on the couch in the living room.
Motivation doesn’t have to be a prerequisite for us to achieve our goals. In fact, thinking that motivation fuels action can be harmful because we can’t always rely on our mental states – they are always changing. The most reliable way to achieve a goal is through good habits, and the first step many of us forget to take in developing those habits is just being there.