Existential Vision

What an extraordinary change takes place when one first learns the rules for the indicative and the subjunctive, when for the first time the fact that everything depends upon how a thing is thought first enters the consciousness, when, in consequence, thought in its absoluteness replaces an apparent reality.

Soren Kierkegaard

For, truth to tell, dancing in all its forms cannot be excluded from the curriculum of all noble education: dancing with the feet, with ideas, with words, and need I add that one must also be able to dance with pen — that one must learn how to write.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols


The ability to dance is lost in America; indeed, I don’t think most people understand themselves, much less other people.

I moved into my home — 2007 Chevy Tahoe — white — nearly one year ago; as an experience, it’s been, more or less, trivial. Between an iPhone and MacBook, I’ll sit for hours, while my mind enters world after world far away from my physical body and car.

A day or two ago, I looked out upon a palm tree, struck with how little time I spent appreciating nature. In that moment, I realized the depths to which the world had changed. My basic knowledge of code is far more useful to my understanding of the world than any other science I have ever learned.

Without a technical understanding of computers, the Internet, a smartphone, there is no practical difference between computing tech and magic.

And, since 2005, there’s been a 17% decline in the number of secondary schools offering intro to computer science courses? The dance was over long ago.


Conceptual Models

In his classic, The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman notes the importance of a solid conceptual model:

Conceptual models are valuable in providing understanding , in predicting how things will behave, and in figuring out what to do when things do not go as planned. A good conceptual model allows us to predict the effects of our actions. Without a good model, we operate by rote, blindly; we do operations as we were told to do them; we can’t fully appreciate why, what effects to expect, or what to do if things go wrong. As long as things work properly, we can manage. When things go wrong, however, or when we come upon a novel situation, then we need a deeper understanding, a good model.

Conceptual models long held by Americans have failed. Boomers derived identity from their profession, socio-economic status, rule-oriented nature. Gen Ys are paralyzed in utter confusion. Boomers taught Y how the world should work. Y was unwilling to stand. Both are avid tech users, magic in the air.

The path fades at the end of a career that’s spanned four decades, the ol’ boomer is realizing how little their loyalty ever meant, how people cared nothing for their status, how fast the world explodes; thus, boomers are killing themselves at ever-increasing rates.

Traditional career paths, encouraged by the old, are often the only path viable in the eyes of Y, churning forth unemployable graduates, loathsome millennials — voids, exist in utter confusion. 79% hold bachelor degrees; 25% live with mom and dad. Most don’t have a clue what to do. Unfortunately, older Americans continue to interact with the young, on old terms, while our education system inundates the children with ancient curricula.

Technological illiteracy is about half of what’s wrong with the world; I believe the other half is: most people don’t understand people.


Ecce Homo

Most people are not strong enough.

Ben Horowitz, The Struggle


Existential vision is a conceptual model of human existence.

It anchors my sense of self and helps me monitor cognitive bias. It informs the way I interact with people, as actions can be viewed with nuance and perspective swiftly taken.

Existential vision is rooted in an existentialist outlook, outlined as follows:

You exist first as an individual, born and dying alone

Human existence is chained to paradox, which evokes mental discomfort/anxiety:

  • how do we live while dying daily;
  • how do you accept insatiable loneliness in an ever-social world;
  • how do you reconcile a desire for freedom and disdain for responsibility;
  • how do you begin a search for meaning?

Discomfort spurs action and leads down one of two paths:

  • [Inauthentic] Appropriate a prepackaged, stock identity;
  • [Authentic] discover who you are inside; stay true to that inner voice; recognize there’s no joy without discomfort; identify your greatest qualities; openly assess your weakest; commit to seeing life fully and not leaping to rash anger; question always what is said and what is not.

Although life is struggle, and though the journey to uncover one’s authentic self is a lifelong pursuit, it’s the struggle and journey that bloom into authentic happiness.

In contrast, the inauthentic operate by rote, blindly; they do what society tells them to; they’ll never appreciate why, what effects to expect, or what to do if things go wrong.

In this present society fraught with fraudulence, to struggle for authenticity is more than simply honest living and a search for the true self. It’s doing both, while fending off attacks from an insecure mob—veritable blood-bats, every one, usurping the very rights we thought inalienable; parasitic stiflings of independent thought and contrarian souls; pre-electing the genuine, deeming them “deviant”, then bolting these trophy lepers on to the pedestal.


Originally published at existentialvision.com—essays on people, startups, and growth.