I have often felt purposeless, for the most part. Sometimes I get caught up in something and get all excited, but it usually ends up being temporary, illusory. It goes away. It doesn’t map meaningfully onto reality, so it becomes a flight of fancy that becomes more trouble than it’s worth.
We’re all going to die. And eventually everything will become nothing. So that makes a lot of seemingly meaningful things become really pointless. The idea of becoming some authority figure for the sake of it doesn’t gel with me. I’ve tried to buy into that, but it never lasts because it ultimately strikes me as a little silly. I’ve run through a lot of that. The problem is, just coasting through life strikes me as a little silly, too. You end up getting into problems that you don’t have enough energy, resources or know-how to solve, and the whole “The Universe Will Provide” idea strikes me as myopic, privileged and powerless. I’m sure I’m interpreting that a little too narrowly, but there’s no avoiding that.
So. We have this LifeGame, and we ought to make the most of it. We don’t have to, but I’ve kind of played around in the “I decide not to decide” space for long enough, and I find that suboptimal. That’s Mixed Feelings Park. And I don’t want to spend life in Mixed Feelings Park, I want to spend it in Flow, and in the Good/Light Playground. I want to be happy, full of joy. No anxiety. This means developing skills, abilities. This means some degree of will-to-power, not for its own sake but so that you can navigate LifeGame with more finesse. You don’t want to get stuck here and there, you don’t want to mope and be miserable because some random small monster takes you down. I want to be strong so I can protect and help others.
Okay? So I think I’ve resolved that. LifeGame, to play or not to play? I choose play. Since you’re going to play, you have to take it seriously (while acknowledging that it’s ultimately a game). I mean serious here in the sense of “earnest” rather than “grave”. Poker can provide a useful analogy. Taking poker seriously means learning how the game works, learning the odds, learning the hands, learning to read people. It also means not getting overly attached to the outcome. You can have fun with it. You can play with it like an artist, rather than get bludgeoned by it. You know you might lose everything, but at least you did the best you could and you had fun. You played your cards right.
Choosing an overall strategy
So. I choose to acknowledge LifeGame, and I choose to play it, and I choose to play it well. Choosing to play it well means figuring out what your personal utility functions are. What gets you off, sustainably over the context of your LifeGame? So a cigarette gives me utility over 5 minutes. Heroin might do the same. I think if you have 5 minutes left to live, heroin is a great idea.
The problem is that you seldom knowingly know that you have 5 minutes to live. I can reasonably assume that I have at least 10-20 years left, and at best I might have a 100 years left. Cigarettes greatly diminish the quality of that life. So they’re a detrimental choice in LifeGame. When you start thinking in terms of such broader contexts, things like eating and living healthily, exercising, etc make more sense. Getting into petty disagreements and arguments on Facebook and the Internet make less sense. They might be fun in the short term, they might feel meaningful in the short term, but they’re really just distractions.
If you’re not building assets that compound over time, you’re wasting your time- at least, again, assuming that you have at least 10 years to live. If you have an hour left to live, shoot up all you like. Ignore me. These are thoughts for optimizing a good 40-80 years of LifeGame.
What to do?
Okay. So what do I do, then? What do I want to create? What do I want to experience? My wife was asking me about this. What am I excited about? I did some pretty dramatic things by getting married and buying a house and getting a job. I got a couple of cats. I have a job with awesome colleagues. But things have been fairly stagnant since then. Or at least, they’ve been progressing steadily, but it feels a little “boring” in its steadiness. My daily routine is a little boring. This is my own problem, not anybody else’s. I should figure out how to get more out of my own life, I should figure out how to be at peace with myself if I die tomorrow.
Anyway, I realize that I’ve been carrying tonnes and tonnes of thoughts in my head for over a year, maybe. And it takes a bit of shaking around, a bit of colliding with other ideas, a bit of video-watching, people-talking, all of that stuff… before it starts to coalesce into something meaningful. And I feel like I’m on to something here, by taking what I’ve learnt over the past 1.5 years, by taking these new ideas and perspectives and lens and applying them to older, more fundamental pursuits.
Legion Of Heroes -> The Pipeline
I went through a phase where I was very obsessed with the idea of becoming a hero. I’d use “visaisahero” (Visa Is A Hero) as a username on multiple places. It was my MSN name. I was obsessed with this idea of becoming a hero- somebody who rose above herself and her circumstances to achieve great things for others. But somehow that never really took off the way I wanted it to. It was a vague, naive, narcissistic and fantastic ideal. It wasn’t actionable enough. The fundamental dream was real inside my head, but I hadn’t figured out what I was going to do about it. I had this vague idea that I’d just write about heroism, write blogposts about how to be heroic, and that I’d fake it until I made it.
That sort of died-ish. In the meantime, I had been writing about Singaporean politics and media news and stuff, and that got me a bunch of attention. But I never quite managed to let go of my original Heroes idea. I always felt that life could be much more interesting than as determined by happenstance. There had to be other people like me out there, people who were working on interesting things, tackling interesting problems, and there had to be a way to reach out to them and help them achieve great things. I created a community on Facebook called (n_n)/ for friends to invite other thoughtful friends, so we could have nice conversations. These were really pleasant and thoughtful, but the nature of the medium made it more of a relationship/friendship building space rather than a vehicle for any serious change or construction. The only place I can actually imagine that actually happening is on an independent site or forum of some sort.
I knew that I wanted something. I knew I wanted more than what I was, what I had. But I didn’t know how to make it any more precise than I already had so far. I wanted to be more, to be better. But in what sense?
Creative Collision (synaptic stimuli!)
I was watching a couple of TED talks earlier when I was having lunch. First I re-watched Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk about genius and creativity. Then I watched Bill Gates talk about Innovating to Zero. And something stirred in me. As I watched these, I re-thought about other things that I’ve enjoyed watching, and how they cause certain conceptual collisions inside my head that trigger off a chain reaction. I realize that I ought to have a better formula for getting unstuck when I get stuck. I realize that I ought to share that formula with others who might be in the same boat as I was. And then things start getting clearer.
I don’t need to try and achieve something lofty. Rather, I need to try to achieve something highly specific and localized, that only I can do. And it can (even should?) start with something almost ridiculously hyper-precise, and hyper-unique to my own condition. Let me attempt to phrase it.
I personally want to see a slight shift in the world, where people celebrate scientific achievement and throw themselves at achieving the goals that improve the lot of our species. Specifically, the work of people like Elon Musk and Bill Gates come to mind, but really, anybody who’s doing basic research, anybody who’s improving science and technology, anybody who’s helping to lift people out of poverty, solve our energy problems, so on and so forth. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel there, I am willing to follow the visions of people who are smart and have put in the work already.
I am tired and underwhelmed of spectator sports and the path-of-least-resistance that “the media” often takes. I find it almost sad and ridiculous that people worry about celebrities and about sports when there are things happening at much larger scales. I suppose those things might seem more scary because they’re so consequential, but the idea of living life while caring about artificially created meaning scares me. I don’t mean to insult people who do that. I’m almost kind of jealous of people who can pick a sports team and be loyal to it for life and decide that that’s somehow a meaningful thing to do. For me it feels too artificial and constructed. And yes I know that all meaning is ultimately constructed, but shouldn’t we be working on things that have real and positive repercussions on other people?
Not necessarily. It’s all arbitrary. There is no single right way of doing things. Just ways of doing things that might be us amusing ourselves into the abyss, or us trying to build something and help people… also in the face of the abyss. I personally find that there’s something really exciting about the work that really smart people are doing, and it excites me more than sports or celebrities. If you disagree, then this isn’t the place for you. I’m still happy to share this precious planet with you, but you should probably go hang out somewhere else.
Paul Graham describes essays as cleaned-up trains of thought. My vomits aren’t cleaned up at all. They’re fully messy, fully random, fully chaotic. Everything just gets spilled out, and it probably makes little to no sense to anybody other than myself. But that’s okay, I can clean them up later. I’m just dumping out the lego bucket.
I think there must be kids out there in the world right now who are going through what I went through 10 years ago, 5 years ago. And I think back to how lost and confused I was at those points in time. I wonder what I would do if I encountered my younger self right now. What questions would I ask him? What advice would I give him? How would I help him make better decisions, without exactly telling him what to do, or asking him to do my bidding? That’s the blog that I need to have. I need to clean up the messy path that led me from there to here, so that others can skip the mistakes that I made en-route. So I need to be highly specific.
I’m going to write a bunch of blogposts that detail the biggest mistakes I made. The biggest lessons I learned. The things that I wasted my time with. The things I wish I did earlier. The videos, movies and books that made the biggest difference to me.
The people I will be writing for? ENTPs. Geminis. People with ADHD. People who did well in school early on, but became underachievers afterwards. People who were told they were smart, but weren’t taught to work hard. People with horrible time management skills. People who are flighty, unreliable, untrustworthy. People who used to read books under their desks at school. People who are addicted to Facebook or Reddit instead of building things in their spare time that might have lasting value. People who have always felt like they ought to be building something, but suspect that they’re not good enough, or that they might embarrass themselves by failing, or that the world doesn’t quite need what they have to say, do, or offer.
One of the most important things I’m realizing right now as I write this is how much of this stems from all of the things that seemed so silly and foolish when I were younger. Everything great seems really naive, stupid and ignorant when it’s still a fragile, vulnerable seed. You shouldn’t shut people out or down when they start on these paths. Rather, you should help them refine their thoughts. You should ask probing questions that will clear their heads.
I was hoping that this vomit or post was going to be really simple and straightforward, really succinct and fast. But instead I meandered through the whole thing. That’s okay. I’m getting it out. I have a lot more stuff to get out. And then I will sort it all. Then I will look at the streams, and I will tidy them up. And it will be useful to at least one other person out there. And it will remind me of my own journey, and it will give me a sense of how I’m going to move forward. We ARE going to innovate to zero. We ARE going to lift billions of people out of poverty. And I’m going to try and figure out how I can participate in that, get involved. And it’ll be really fun, exciting and meaningful. And we can go out with a smile on our faces, that our LifeGames were well-played.