Design recipe for “What should I do in the future?”

Yesterday I got a chance to talk to a senior in Comp Science whom I greatly respected. He asked me why Comp Science. I wrestled with the thought for  a while and said I thought it would allow me to make the most impact in this increasingly technological world. And learning comp science in Tufts has been very engaging for me too. I enjoy the practices. Even though I struggled with the most basic of code I comforted myself by saying that everyone was a beginner at some point. The benefit of talking to a super smart guy like him is that I stop caring too much about comparing myself with others because I would probably be as good anyway. Each of us has our unique background, and I should spend my effort on how to make use of that uniqueness instead.

I asked my senior what I should do during the summer. I was looking for internship because it seemed to be the best way to learn. I would be given problems to solve, and then had to somehow find out how to best do it – try on my on, Google or ask around. But then I realized that wasn’t very coherent with my reason of “wanting to make an impact”. I am still unable to internalize the idea “Education is not selfish”, because education does not seem like a very tangible product. My senior mentioned that any discipline, especially computer science and engineering, would have to produce something that adds value to the world. That should be the main motivation to drive us to learn: we learn from trying to create something valuable.

Anyway, the chat got me thinking a lot and inspired me to write down an approach that I thought I always knew but then didn’t have enough chances to practice.  Practice makes permanence and the only way to internalize this recipe is through brutal repetition!

Design recipe for answering the question “What should I do in the near future”?


  1. What is it in the world that I care about? (Bonus if reasons are fully explained & understood)
    This is where I look for ideas.
  2. What does the world need in that field?
    Good ideas matter a lot.
    *If this question gives a too broad answer, define “world” as something closer, like my immediate surrounding, or the communities that I belong to.
  3. How can I add some value to it?
                   Important: There should be NO “BUT”s at this state, for limiting myself here defeats the whole purpose of this exercise: to generate productive next steps. The tricky thing here is how realistic I should be: aiming big and risking burning out vs aiming small and feel unmotivated?
  4. What do I need to know to do step 3?
              4.1 Is there anything already done by others?
    If no, check again to make sure there is indeed nothing, even remotely related to the goal.
    If yes, how can I adopt and even improve it?
    *Lesson from a consulting talk I recently attended: A lot of people whom we assumed to know the basic good practices don’t. So always do my research!
              4.2 Who should I ask?
  5. Have a plan to learn & implement steps generated from 4).
  6. Review on my experience following this process
    This is crucial for the power of this recipe: without doing it, our products will not improve over time.

Practice application: SEALNet Project Malaysia’14

  1. What is it in the world that I care about?
    I care about learning. What, why and how should everyone learn? What are the outcome of learning on the individual and society?
  2. What does the world need there?
    It needs people, especially the youth, to have more exposure to different experiences, so that they will understand learning takes place every time and every where. That understanding will motivate people to learn even more.
  3. How can I add value to that?
    I can share with other people the SEALNet experience that I’ve had: working in a team, sharing a common goal, caring for each other’s growth.
  4. In order to do so, what do I need to know?
    4.1 Is there anything already done by someone else?
    Yes, SEALNet has been running projects for 10 years. They are good at addressing this need.
    If Yes, how can I adopt & add value to it?
    I consult past projects and draw from my own other experiences to see what will be good to add
    4.2 Who should I ask?
    I got mentors, and I will seek out more to someone who has done this before.
    By now , I already have a tons of things I will need to know and actions to take: write a project proposal, ask for funding, gather my friends’ support etc…
  5. Formulate a plan & start doing all these stuff.
    Doing is still the most difficult, but by now it is a lot easier than in step 1.
  6. Review
    Personal testimony: This freaking works! I feel very invested in the project because I know they all start from something I care about; moreover the next steps are simple enough to stop me from over analysing. Asking these questions in the right sequence is so much easier! (*side node: never go to an office hour unprepared) Overall effect? I’m learning & enjoying so much from doing this project!


Why am I worried so much about taking the right step? It is a terrible tendency I have: overthinking about how to best create a learning experience that I stop experiencing. How ironic. I should just get my hand dirty with something I already know that will benefit the community. Incidentally, this world-centered approach is also what my philosophy professor told me. I would like to share this because in writing out this recipe I’m practicing it too – some of my readers may need this recipe 😀

p/s:  a great 1 min video to anyone who wants to answer this question too



4 thoughts on “Design recipe for “What should I do in the future?”

  1. True that the trickiest component to this recipe is to be imaginative enough to realize the potential impact of whatever small value added by you. Without it you wouldnt have the vision and urge to expand it.
    For me I think being in IB really stifles me so most of the thing I want to do feel overly pragmatic and a bit selfish lol. Not that I dont try to approach them with the right attitude, I just dont do them because I ‘care about something in the world’ (since I dont care about many things at the moment). I do them because I think they are good for me. Also because of that I cannot initiate many ideas. But then this impasse shows that your recipe must be partly true!

    • “since I dont care about many things at the moment”

      I found from my ongoing experience that you would start to care once you are exposed to more things. So yes, throw yourself into different stuffs with the mindset “I’m going to contribute the most to this because that’s how I will learn the most”. Committing unreasonably & exceeding expectation are good ways to grow 😀

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