How many years will I live on after I die?

This post is inspired by a recent talk by a friend. He wasn’t saying anything particularly new for me, but it was such a good reminder for what I want to do and what I can do (hint: “I still don’t know”).

Sharad shared with us a question that he most often asked himself and invited us to do the same.

How many years after I die do I want to be remembered for?
Some philosophers lived for a few thousand years. I remember justifying to myself that perhaps it wasn’t because they were influential. They were simply born before me; if the arrow of time was reversed, wouldn’t Socrates and Plato be remembering me now? Then I realized it was just a bad excuse. There were many people at that time who were not remembered at all.

Sharad pointed out how long we will be remembered depends on how much we add value to others. The more lives one can positively impact, the longer his name will live on. Of course notorious guys in history still live on today because they serve on as negative examples for children and object of study for history. (“How did this initially good guy become a villain?”)

Strangely enough, I was not at all motivated by this question. Do I care that much about living posthumously? I recall a fable of a king talking to an unknown man who was lazying around. The King asked the man “Why are you lazying around? Aren’t you afraid that you would die one day and no one remembers you? Go and do something!” The man simply replied “Why should I do anything anyway since we are both going to die? Instead of worrying about my death I would rather live now. Why do you have to build a statue of yourself if you would not be there to enjoy it?”

Are you the man or are you the king?
I don’t know. I feel that conflict often in myself: I don’t want to sit around, but I also know that my striving may very well be pointless. I have never been that motivated by fame, not because I think fame is not fun. It is just strange and somewhat uncomfortable for me to not know about someone who knows about me.

People often talk about living your life to the fullest so that you won’t regret on your dead bed. The king may regret for not relaxing while the man can regret for not trying harder. Maybe neither of them will. In the end, how we feel about our lives is our own choice.

If I am that ambivalent, why do I care to write this?
I am very grateful to hear my friend speak. The best thing Sharad has done to me is to be “brutally honest” (his words) and live his own life well (very similar to what my mom has done) He shows me his own example so that I know it is possible; he throws at me a challenge so that I want to do it. The fearful side of me kept giving itself excuses: “He is out my league.. How can he be so sure about his own direction? He may be missing out a lot of things in college given the commitment to his startup. I can’t be like that. My goal is different; I want to keep exploring in college, I don’t want to narrow myself down to that one path yet.”

Dear Khuyen, all lame excuses. It’s ok to not know what I want to do, but it is not ok to use that as an excuse to avoid the unknown. I can tell that Sharad has done a lot of soul-searching because no one at that stage who has not faced many difficult decisions. Sharad knows his direction because he has tried. Have I tried genuinely and forcefully enough, and if so have I made a decision? Is college is making me more mediocre by giving me four years of easy fun? If I am kicked out of college right now, what will I do?

What does this mean?
Two things for me. First, a rule for myself: Whenever presented with difficult choices, always choose the one I am more scared of. My future self will thank me. Second, a reminder: time is short and the most important resource in college is the people, so surround myself with people who genuinely care and inspire me. To my standard, I think I am still very shy, so this is the best way I can learn and grow and help others.

Neyuhk is having some problems,

so I try to help.

– ARGGG why am I so lazy, unmotivated and weak today? I planned to practice today, to do better than yesterday.. and now I’m feeling like crap.
– Hey Neyuhk, what’s the big deal? If you don’t feel good today, just rest. It’s the incremental progress, no matter how tiny, over the long term that adds up.
– But if I don’t show up for practice today I will lose my streak of the regular practice. Too soon the vicious cycle of procrastination and finding excuses for my own laziness will happen. I’m scared.
– Wait, tell me what you are trying to do again with the practice?
– Err.. I want to get better at what I do.
– And why are you doing this? Who is the practice for?
– Me? Yeah. Maybe I can use my skill to do something useful for people, but for now it’s for me first: to do something useful I need to better my skill.
– That’s right.
– But I’m still not comfortable with quitting today yet. How do I know that skipping the practice today won’t make me lazier?
– You do know. Think about how far you have gone and how you got there. Did you go all in everyday, leaving yourself exhausted and demotivated?
– No, I didn’t… I guess I see your point, but I’m still feeling guilty.
– I know. It’s hard. I think we procrastinate our practices precisely because we did not dare to admit that it was hard. Now repeat that last phrase to me, loud and clear.
– Yeah.. IT IS SO DAMN HARD!
– Good. Feeling better now? There’s nothing wrong or shameful with fearing something hard, my dear Neyuhk. In fact, if you find nothing hard you should not be here anyway. So tell me again, which one do you care more about, your pride or getting better?
– Getting better, of course. Caring about pride ironically doesn’t help my pride anyway.
– Yo, getting witty huh? So what do you want to do now?
– I guess I will set a timer for a quick practice. When the bell rings, I will stop. Then leave a note to myself that I take it easy today so that I recover to do better tomorrow.
– Yup. Sounds like a plan. Remember, you are always in for the practice. You never stop trying, but you must learn to quit strategically. You know the stories of Supermen and Wonderwomen, don’t you?
– Right. Yeah, they put in tons of effort, but they do so in a smart way. Thanks.

Writing just seems so hard today. Probably because of yesterday with a lot of typing and over frying my brain with computer science. Maybe I should rest a bit more. Or maybe I should pull through and write anyway.
Writing, meditating, training, programming, talking, thinking, programming, working with people, being with people, loving people etc… living is a practice. And for any practice, there are hits; there are also shits. I just have to show up and be grateful that I still can.
Which is tough, because we keep blaming ourselves. Why am I not doing what I wanted to do today? Should I push a bit more or should I quit? Why are some people so difficult, some causes so hopeless, some efforts so vain?
I learnt a good trick over the summer to decide in cases like this: imagine my best friend Neyuhk is in the same situation. What would I tell him?

An honest and open conversation just feels so good.

P/s: The Dip by Seth Godin is a nice little book that taught me again about quitting.