0575 – reduce large, ambiguous problems into small, simple ones

I keep thinking vaguely about a large and ambiguous problem: how can I challenge and inspire the world, make it a better place? And sometimes when I’m a little more reasonable I wonder, how can I do that for my country (0.07% of the world)? But what I ought to solve first is- how can I do that for my friends? How can I do it for myself?

I’ve had a few conversations with friends recently where we’ve been commisarating about what adult life has been like for us in our mid-20s. The common theme has been that it’s hard and depressing. We seem to all feel a little overworked, a little too incompetent. We seem to all feel like we’re burdened with expectations (parents, society, peers) that we might not live up to. And we all seem to be wondering if this is all there is, if life is just going to be an endless Sisyphian struggle from now until we die. It’s easy to appreciate now how some older people are so angry, bitter, caustic.

How can I help? What can I do? There are powerful truths buried in common sayings: be the change you want to see in the world.

I’m trying to imagine how my interactions with myself might be different, and I think I’ve made some progress on that front over the years but it’s hard to quantify and harder to be certain about it. I suppose I should figure out some ways of quantifying, perhaps by periodically interviewing myself. I saw James Clear so an annual integrity report; I think that’s a great idea.

That said, conversations with friends make me think that… well, conversations with friends can be more telling than introspection. With introspection it seems easier to fool myself. When talking to others, different people give me different responses which I can then use to triangulate an idea of who I am, or at least how I’m coming across.

What I’m saying is, I can learn a lot about myself by talking to other people and then evaluating those conversations and trying different things moving forward. Kind of like how a stand up comedian tries out new material on the road. This might seem insincere to some people, but I think the greater insincerity is in trying to remain static (which is a losing game, and really boring even if you do manage to succeed.)

So to review this vomit so far- I want to challenge and inspire myself, and my friends. We’ll save the world for later. (Heh.) I don’t want to talk about myself right now, so I’ll think about my friends. What would inspire my friends?

Some words come to mind. Work ethic. Conviction. Focus. Compassion. Kindness. Thoughtfulness. Creativity. Concern.

I think we all want to be in the presence of goodness, and maybe greatness. The second half is a hard hypothesis to test because not many people encounter it- those that do seem to rave about it, but that might be selection bias. Would we enjoy being in the company of our idols? Would it be life-affirming to be buddies with Ali, Jobs, Bryant, Gandhi, etc? These larger than life people can sometimes be infuriating. And even if they were perfectly nice, they might make us feel inadequate by comparison.

I often find myself thinking that I long for true companionship, true peers, people who love their craft and are kinda obsessed about making it good. Well font I have people like that in my life already? Aren’t my colleagues like that? My boss certainly is, and he’s one of my favorite people.

But here’s the rub – I think I don’t have these people close to me because I’m not sufficiently signaling that I’m one of them. I know a bunch of writers who exist, who I could potentially each out to, but I don’t quite feel comfortable doing that because I feel like I lack the appropriate body of work.

Well, what would that body of work look like? I’ve written 575,000+ words (probably 600,000+), but it’s messy. It’s disorganized. It’s not something I’d invite anybody to take a walk through. I have a lot of cleaning up and tidying up to do. I don’t need to have a grand opening or anything like that- I think that just sets me up for failure. What I need to do is be very discerning, and pick out precisely the things that I believe ought to be shared with the world, and then share them. What are the quotes I think the world should read, say about Singapore’s policies and future? I should reconsolidate everything and create a decent user experience and eliminate irrelevant crap- maybe move that stuff over to Tumblr until it’s publish-worthy.

Facebook is a good channel for me to post my thoughts- I have more than a few people who are interested in the things I have to say. If I can post roughly one good thing every couple of days I’d be doing pretty good and I’d develop something worth paying attention to. Then I would have people reaching out to me, and we could share our plans for world domination. Also I should do a link roundup every week. Every Friday maybe?

I stopped writing this vomit last week at 800+ words and I thought I’d resume it and finish it off. I write up a link roundup post but I didn’t get around to publishing it. I suppose I should just publish it anyway and then move on to the next thing. I allow accumulated backlog to suffocate me, when I should really just cut my losses and move forward. And I’ve found this to be a recurring theme for me– I was hit pretty hard by an Alan Watts tweet (Watts is dead, but it’s one of those accounts that tweets quotes)– that Zen isn’t about transcending doing the dishes, but it is to do the dishes– and to see that you only have to wash one dish. And I realize that’s a life skill that I lack, that I sorely need to embrace. I only have one word vomit to write, and that’s this one. And I’m about to finish it, how marvelous is that? And then it is a new moment. I’m a new me. Everything begins again, and I am refreshed.

So. To go back to the original point. I feel the need to challenge and inspire myself, and in doing so, challenge and inspire my friends, and perhaps, if I’m lucky, in doing so, challenge and inspire the world. But that’s just a need. It’s attachment. It’s a hangup, it’s a fixation on an idealized version of me that haunts me all the time. I don’t need that. Kill that guy. I just need to wash this dish.

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