“You must go it alone.” – Alan Watts

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A month ago, I graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a B.S. in Computer Science. On paper, that may seem like I have everything under control. To be honest, I couldn’t be more disoriented or confused coming out of college than I am at the moment.

A funny thing happens when you graduate college. Throughout your whole life, up until this point, you had a timeline that you followed. You went to elementary school because you were told to, you went to high school because you had to, you attended university because that’s what everyone else does. But you quickly learn that “what everyone else does” after college is an absolute free-for-all.

Some people choose to find a job close to home. Some find a job elsewhere. Some decide to make a start-up. Some decide to get married. And some decide to make a run for it, ditching society and cultural norms to become a forest hippie (my preferred plan of action).

And whatever you choose is okay.

I recently read the book “The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson. This is arguably the best and worst choice I’ve made since graduation. Manson does a great job of reminding us that we are not special, and that we’re all inevitably going to die. This means giving up the idea of chasing success, because the idea of success doesn’t accurately represent the suffering it takes to get there. We need to get over the idea that we’re inadequate. Not because we’re amazing, but because we actually ARE inadequate, and the only way to ever improve is to accept that we suck. Instead of visualizing the pleasures we want (since most people want the same thing) we need to visualize the problems we want to deal with. For Manson, that meant becoming a broke blog writer after college, because to him, writing was worth the pain of not being financially secure.

As I’ve now made the blasphemous choice to start a T-shirt company, program for fun, photograph everything, write like hell as I’ve wanted to do since I was a child, and take my first real steps to figuring out the problems I want to have, I feel a sense of freedom that I’ve never felt before – the freedom to fail, and the marvelous ability to not give a fuck.

Thanks for the inspiration, Mark. You’re a lovely disappointment panda.

Why Certainty is Wrong

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Recently, I’ve experienced conflict with different people in my life. In the past, when I have experienced conflict, I’ve held grudges and looked for all the ways that proved I was right, and I used to surround myself only with people that agreed with me.

This time around (and I seldom experience conflict because I have a tendency to avoid confrontation – an issue in and of itself) I took the time to reflect. What resulted was a series of ego-shattering realizations that allowed me to have true clarity.

I was wrong.

It’s easy to get caught up in emotions during conflict. What you feel can have a heavy impact on how you perceive a situation, which is why it’s so difficult to get to the root of problems sometimes.

The Crash Course Philosophy series on Youtube has undoubtedly been one of the best resources I’ve come across when it comes to critical thinking and seeking truth. The course walks you through some very tough topics in an environment where you’re forced to set all of your biases aside. This series helped me reach a few truths in my life while I was watching the videos, but it also taught me how to ask the questions that lead a person closer to the truth.

The problem with being “right” or being “certain” is that we really can’t be certain of anything. When we are certain about something, the progress of that thing must end because there is no reason to doubt a certainty. In other words, we can never progress if we never question what we already believe to be true. Because of that, progress must always be made in a state of uncertainty. Because of that, every belief we hold in our heads must be ingrained with a bit of uncertainty, because uncertainty is the key to truth.

So what did that mean for me?

It means I had to take a good, hard look at myself. It means I had to re-evaluate my actions, my values, my perception of reality, and it meant I had to swallow my pride and apologize. The result was a sense of undeniable calm, a sober view of life, and a motivation to better myself rather than shift blame. I spent less energy focusing on who was right and who was wrong and who should apologize to who, and I channeled my energy towards studying more, improving my mental and physical health, and becoming a more virtuous person. And I think it was the best decision I’ve made in a long time.

How to Eat a Plane

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I recently watched the Ted talk by Stephen Duneier called “How to Achieve Your Most Ambitious Goals.” Stephen Duneier has literally cracked the code to achieving goals – he has completed marathons, learned German in a short amount of time, holds a Guinness record for crocheting the largest granny square, learned how to fly a plane, among other insanely ambitious feats. However, he brings his successes back to who he is as a person – someone who cannot focus on anything for more than 10 to 15 minutes at a time, and someone who was a C student throughout his life.

When I was taking Data Structures during my undergraduate career, my professor made a point of showing us a video on Youtube of a man who has literally eaten a plane.

The thing is, anyone can do any of these things. (Though I cant conceive of a reason that would justify eating a plane). The trick is to approach each and every problem in life with small, broken down steps in order to achieve a greater goal.

Whether you want to run a marathon, finish a degree with all A’s, or even practice your writing skills, the key is to break the steps down into the tiniest steps you can conceive of – getting off the couch, closing the Facebook app, opening up your laptop, opening up your word processing app, and just. writing. one. word.

That’s it. That’s the key. Work for a few minutes,  and then go do whatever you want. But come back to the goals you’re trying to accomplish by going back to the smallest step necessary to keep moving forward.