2015: Experiments and Synthesis

Thoughts from winter break.
My intention for the break was to take a break, synthesize and renew my sense of direction (wow big words. They are actually quite simple.)

Why taking a break?
The easy answer was that the semester was rough. The truer answer is that I have become a prisoner of my own structure: planning, system, productivity, getting stuff done… At the beginning of the semester, looking at my own schedule and I asked “Omg where is my time for daydreaming?” (I did have some daydreaming time, but not enough). I wrote in one of my college essays that I was a productivity-junkie. A few years older and hopefully wiser, I think a better description would be that I have an addictive personality. Once I found something that I like; I tend to spend a lot of time there, often at the cost of skimping other stuff. In short, a tendency to dig deep and thus losing the breadth. Often associated with FOMO (fear of missing out).

It’s both a boon and a bane. The plus side, having the energy to pursue depth often gives good result. The downside: I need to be careful in moderating myself. Case in point: I often purposefully deprive myself of the thing I like so that binges can feel even more awesome and I don’t even have to feel too guilty. Like eating, reading, writing, meeting people. (Imagine when I start playing computer game again: how much I will savour it. Maybe this summer.) So far this strategy works pretty well for me. If there is only one thing worth going all-in for, it’s life. Living is a series of pushing to the extremes, taking sometimes to recharge and find a balance, then move on to the next extremes.

That’s probably I need many good friends (of course everyone needs good friends, but bear with me here) in order to pull me back once I go to the extreme. Definition of a good friend: someone who can also go to the extreme to explain to me that what I am doing doesn’t make sense. Use fire to counter  fire huh. Perhaps not surprisingly, I told my friends for my 21st birthday that if one day I become the next Hitler they should reveal to the world all the especially bad things about me so that I will not get what I want (I was only half joking). Any small thing can be addictive, let alone something big like power. Again, half joking only.

How was the break?

My focus has always been on appreciation: how can I appreciate everything and everyone (myself included) more? The answer is to try to live without those good things for a while.

For the break, I managed to break most of my structures. No planning, no reviewing, no time tracking. Just do whatever I feel like doing.It feels a bit weird at first, then refreshing, then frustrating. Darn, I’m not used to having zero structure at all! Another realization from this experience was the reason I have failed too often in improving on my perpetual non-punctuality. I have come to terms with is that I just value wandering and daydreaming more. I believe the real luxury of modern life is unrushedness, which I try to give myself more often. Now I can say I have found a new balance between effectiveness and creativity 😀

I experimented. Tried pushing myself to write everyday for a few hours. Much like self-inflicted torture. Most of them was started but left unfinished; I need to hone my skill of finishing. I have no clue where this will lead to. For now, I just subscribe to the hypothesis “Focus on building discipline and skill and I will enjoy a good life”. I experienced lots of boredom and frustration, but I tried to stay with these negative emotions longer before I gave in to temptations. It sucked, but I learned that I could do it with effort of the right kind. I have to do it first before I tell the world that it is possible, right?

Winter break is a good downtime where I can really taste my emotions. Boredom, fear, annoyance, disappointment, silliness, joy, peace, excitement, bliss, calmness, curiosity, nostalgia. Rejuvenating? Yes. Revealing? Yes. There are so many parts of me that I almost forgot, or haven’t explored.

Another experiment: knowing I am such a social animal, I tried a day without communicating with people by all means. I enjoyed the silence and tranquility at first, but it got rough towards the end. Pushed through. I wonder why I did not hug the first person I saw the next morning. Good experience. Love people way more than before. Intentional or not, absence does make the heart grow fonder. I did not have too many conversations, but they were good 🙂

Sometimes people and I ask myself “Why do I have to do that?” I don’t know. I remember an advice for writer, “If you cannot write well, you’d better live an interesting life.” Given my typical college student environment, I probably need to spice up my life more deliberately like that. They are low risk, high reward (in terms of self-knowledge at least). Any suggestions and ideas are welcome 😀 (Seriously, please do. If I get into some wild adventures because of your ideas I will give you most of the credit)

That is it for synthesis. Let’s see my renewed sense of direction: looking forwards to 2015 (it’s already here)

Theme: Experiment and Synthesis.
Values: Space, clarity, giving.
Words to live by:

  • Always celebrate the process, then the outcome.
  • Failure is just as good, if not better.
  • Remember to be silly.
    Some guidelines:
  • Follow someone I admire, support to my best ability. I will learn a lot from that.
  • Surround myself with more people whom I may not know but whom I trust.
  • Learning to care more wisely.
    New year – New actions
  • Minimize use of generic terms to express myself. I’m better than good, finer than fine and worse than bad. Be more specific with what I want to express.
  • Encourage people to reflect and write more. Demonstrate by example: write more often.

That’s it. 2015 is going to be awesum. Nobody knows what this guy will turn out to be. Regardless of the outcome, CELEBRATE THE PROCESS, STILL.

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On Choices. College is one of them.

Some quick updates:
Going back to school has been so good. I missed it. While it’s true that this initial excitement will soon fade as mid terms come, I’d rather enjoy it more right now. It is now the 4th week of school, and I still find the experience of being in a class, listening, taking notes and contributing to be quite surreal. I miss this kind of studying, especially after the summer. Learning is fun, whether it’s from doing in real life or from bouncing off ideas. I’m taking a challenging Computer Science class that takes roughly 25 hours per week excluding class time to finish. Now I understand what people mean by “common suffering unifies people”. Joke aside, I think the juicy part of the college experience is when there is struggle. No challenge = no learning = no fun.
Catching up with friends were nice too, but doing too much of that in such a short amount of time can be rather tiring. Instead of rushed conversations with too many people in the dining hall like last year, I scheduled walks with one or two this year. It’s a lot nicer to walk around, enjoy the air and chat.
Nature has been amazing. I didn’t realize that it was one of the things I missed the most from the summer. Note to myself: go out more often. Especially when I’m taking that 25 hours/ week class. Seriously. School work can wait; the good life can’t. Also, going out = exploring + enjoying. I’m very excited for all the opportunities this year. Do less, do better.


 

Done with updates, now to the point of this post: Our choices.

I have been asking my friends the questions of what excites them the most coming back to school this time. I received many different and interesting answers, yet I realized my questions presumed that we were all coming back to school. Haven’t I been saying about how awesome college is?

How about a gap year or even dropping out?

I did think of that, not because I badly wanted to do so. I just want to make sure to myself that it is not unthinkable. In evaluating that option, I’ve come to be more certain of my current choice of staying in college. Education is life, and college is just an experience in that. I still follow the traditional path, but I chose to do so while considering the other paths too.

This mantra has always served me well. “It’s my choice.” When we deliberate our choices, we become more of ourselves. We become that slightly better version that we think we want to be. The more difficult the choice, the more deliberation we have to do, the more we become. When I decided to go out with friends instead of calling my family, I’m becoming a bit more sociable. That’s not too difficult. When a friend of mine decided to send me an email telling me how what I did upset her, she was becoming a better friend. It was a more difficult decision, because it required her to have a more complex self-image: being a good friend now did not just mean that we always complimented each other. A good friend now means someone who thinks for each party and for the relationship. It was difficult because who would like such a big change in how one thinks of oneself?

I keep that in mind when I meet other people, often those around my age who believe that they have to do certain things. Some believe that they have no other choices. I often point out to them that choosing such belief is already a choice they make. Being aware that we make choices all the time, including what we believe in, may be the most powerful realization one can have. Some people tell me afterwards that they still stick with their original choices, like a major or job or a partner. I’m more that happy to hear that: once we deliberate, we have more conviction in what we do. We will do well, whatever that endeavour is.

Recently a friend told me that college students, those in liberal arts especially, all had the right to be confused about what we wanted to do. I think calling it a right can be misleading: where does that right come from? Does that mean some other people do not have that rights?

I like the ethos of that saying though, and here is my version. I choose to explore different options, which can be confusing, so that I can figure out. College does not suppose to give us a direction. Quite the contrary, it exposes us to different viewpoints and to the world of ideas (borrowing the terms from Computer Science – who says it’s only about machine and code? Technology, after all, is created by human, for human). If anything, college is supposed to disorient us in a good way. College may facilitate or hinder our quest to find a sense of purpose, but after all is entirely up to us. Only once we start asking that question can the answer emerge.

At least I should not be confused by this one decision I make everyday: I choose to be in college. Being aware of that deliberate choice alone can change the whole experience.

Relevant links:
– Ruth Chang knows why difficult decisions are tough. And important. One of my favorite TED talks.
– College does a lot of thing. But it can’t do everything.
– For those who may be a bit confused about what to do, I may have a solution.