26 Things I Believe At 26 Years Old
Kicking off an annual beliefs catalogue
I’ve decided to start publishing belief catalogues on my birthdays. Inspired by Jason Shen, I see this as a great way to record my beliefs over time, for my future self and for others.
In a way, the birthday reflection point is more personal than that of the regular New Years Eve. Your birthday is a holiday that’s yours alone. New Years Eve leans toward group celebration more than individual reflection, while with birthdays you can make it what you wish.
I used to scoff at birthdays, denouncing them as sentimental birth anniversaries that didn’t map to anything important in reality.
Nothing happens on your birthday, after all — the day after is little different from the day before. And the same group celebration that makes NYE exciting isn’t present - only a few dozen people know when your birthday is.
Yet plenty happens in between birthdays, so it’s worthwhile to check in with them for what they are — milestones of your life. Birthdays are not objectively important, but they are very subjectively significant. You get a wave of goodwill from people that genuinely care about you. And you get to boss people around, because it’s your birthday, that’s why!
In writing this post, I chose beliefs that I hold strongly, that have changed recently, or that came about as a result of an event that happened this year in particular.
I hope this post can be helpful both to the casual reader and to my future self. Beliefs relate (as do I) to the following loose groups: personal interaction, living better, technology, and the human condition.
7 Beliefs about Personal Interactions
Solo Travel No Longer Sustains Me
I exercised my ability to work remotely for the first time this year by spending 3 months abroad in Colombia, Israel, and Germany. It was a luxury to continue my life elsewhere so easily by subletting my San Francisco room, but it wasn’t just what the Instagram feed leads you to believe.
Digital nomadism isn’t like traveling. You’re adventuring every weekend, meeting people all over the world, and living the hostel lifestyle, but you’re also doing work every weekday. When the PST phone calls overlap with social evenings, and your hostel friends spend mere days in the city rather than weeks like you, socializing gets hard and things can get lonely.
I found myself sleeping in, seeing a sight, then working the rest of the day to stay on track, and it really made me appreciate how nice it is to have social events to go in your home city. It’s a luxury and a privilege to stretch out international sojourns to months, but unless you’re planning on investing in that spot for the long term, travel really is something that’s better undertaken with your whole mind. Maybe.
I still believe solo travel is something every person should experience, to learn about themselves. But once you find it, join the crowd again!
People Make Places Special
I visited my college campus at UCSD for the first time since graduating 3 years ago, and nothing felt the same. The building and places are unchanged, but the people and feelings were alien.
It didn’t feel like home at all — rather, like a piece of who I used to be. All it did was call to mind all the friends I made, and made me wonder where they are now. The place was an empty shell without its soul — the community.
“Parting with friends is a sadness. A place is only a place.” — Frank Herbert’s Dune.
Death Strengthens Life
My paternal grandmother died this year, at the age of 86. She’s the last grandparent to go, but the only one I had a true relationship with. She’s the first person I know well in my life to have passed away.
It didn’t affect me very much, which made me feel like I was broken somehow — shouldn’t that affect you? It did call into sharp relief all of the relationships in the rest of the family — how the cousins came together to fill the social and financial hole she’s left behind. The only other time I’ve seen such a powerful force for connection was at weddings.
She won’t be the last person in my life to pass away, but she’s essentially the first. I count myself lucky for that, at 26, and appreciate the person she was, as well as the impact she’s had on my life. It’s a cliche that mortality makes you realize what’s important, but hey, the older I get, the wiser cliches become.
The Subjective is Important
So far, I think I’ve lived 3 distinct eras in my life, each characterized by me optimizing for a different goal.
Until I was 21, I optimized for fun, doing whatever my family, friends, and society expected of me without thinking about who I was and what I wanted. From 21–24, I optimized for impact. The best way to measure your self worth was by how much you positively impact the world, right?
But now, I optimize for authenticity. I prefer a Corey with a smaller impact that feels right for him, than one with a larger impact that doesn’t reflect who he is. The old me would say that’s selfish and irrational, but that’s because he only respected the objective.
As I age, I respect the power of the subjective more and more. It’s just as important as the objective — neither is more than the other. In my Silicon Valley world, it tends to be undervalued as the hedonic pursuit of short term values, but for me, it represents much more than that.
Community Trumps Novelty
Currently, I’m optimizing for close relationships with a smaller group of people, rather than many relationships with a wide variety of people. I’ve always valued being a superconnector network guy, but I think even that is best achieved by a few personal relationships, rather than being an acquaintance to all. Go deep, not broad.
Impact Corey would say that a social connection becomes nothing more than a memory, but I believe human interaction yields much more. Shared experiences are all humanity has, in the end, so you might as well dive deeply , and build something over time with the same people.
Management is Romantic
I managed my first direct report this year at work, and the relationship mirrored that of mine with my girlfriend Kristina in many ways. I started double dipping my learnings from both relationships with the other, to great effect.
Communication is key, you’re both relying on each other for support, and starting from a position of trust is crucial.
It’s funny how those things don’t change- no matter who you are or how you interact with someone or what you rely on them for, the same interpersonal dynamics pop up. That’s why I’ve been investing in getting better at communicating my needs and uncovering those of others.
Cohabitation Is a Harsh Mirror
I currently live with 14 other people in a 12 bedroom house in SF’s Haight district. We’re lucky — the house is big enough that nobody feels cramped or imposed upon. But we do live together, we do share two kitchens, we do make decisions that affect each other — and the way we handle those decisions is indicative of who we are and what we value.
Many people don’t truly confront these lifestyle edges, since when you live alone your lifestyle choices affect no one but yourself. Living with others in close proximity forces you to confront your idiosyncrasies and figure out which are important to you and which are worth changing. In this way, you flesh out the edges of your identity.
Do I really want to spend my social capital enforcing a house rule of letting the yellow mellow? Maybe not, but I would on turning lights off when we leave the room.
Coliving is an ongoing adventure, but it’s one that is definitely a net positive for my life. It 5 or 10 years, well, we’ll see. I could foresee the value of multiple families living under one room or nearby, for childcare at the very least.
6 Beliefs about Living Better
Responsibilities You Enjoy Are Better Than No Responsibilities
I’ve grown out of my carefree traveller days and am starting to appreciate having responsibilities — things I am accountable for. Whether it’s a job, a house chore, or boyfriend duty, it feels good to satisfy the expectations of others.
There’s a meme in society that ‘doing whatever you want, whenever you want’ and being accountable to nobody is desirable, but I don’t think that holds true for me anymore.
Finding the responsibilities you enjoy and then meeting them is more fulfilling in the long term.
Love is the Ultimate Life Hack
I’ve been in love for with my girlfriend Kristina for just over two years now, and I’ve been meaning to write a full blog post to dissect this most mysterious of emotions.
Cohabitating and loving another human affects your entire life — it’s like an inescapable boot camp for your communication and emotional skills. You now have an intimate stakeholder sharing every aspect of your life, and you’ve got to balance their social, physical, financial, and emotional needs with yours. In return, she makes all the non-stimulating moments of my life exciting, just by being constantly present. Find me an app that does that!
It is without a doubt the most intense and fulfilling personal development project I’ve ever embarked on. This year is another steady entry in that department, and I’m sure next year will bring just as many new learnings.
Communication is Key to Every Relationship
My relationship with Kristina affects the way I relate to pretty much everyone else in my life, so the improvements made there ripple outwards to all others.
We’ve developed a few communication codes to relate our needs and wants, as misunderstandings invariably ensure. For instance, unless she says a codeword, I don’t have to remember any specific fact — but if the codeword is used, I’m obligated to remember. I’ve started using codewords with my coworkers and housemates as well!
Organization is Key to Success
My company makes an organization assistant, so you’d think I’d be super organized to work there. I wasn’t before, but now I am. It’s changed the way I organize my brain and my life.
Now I keep all my Apple Notes organized by folders like Dreams, Journals, and Tasks. I make sure no meeting is ended without ETAs and responsibilities assigned. I act like if notes weren’t taken, it never happened.
It’s certainly added an extra level of mental load to my normal operating procedure, but I think its well worth it. If I trust my mental architecture, I can trust my ability do what I say. And others can trust my integrity — that’s why organizing your life (having designated places for stuff) is so crucial. Be organized, so you can think about things better than where your stuff is.
Tell that to the messy college Corey!
Optimizing Small Wins is a Big Win
These little gadgets are small, but add incredible amounts of value to my life as they allow me to spend less time on my non-priorities every single morning. 5 minutes less a day adds up to almost a full workweek over a year!
I wonder how many other minute changes in other aspects of my life could be made in the same way. Big wins are important, but it’s the little things that count, and if you can fix a little thing that happens often in a tiny way, that counts as a big win.
Ego is Bad, but Selfhood is Valuable
I don’t truly believe that yet, but I do see how the concept of a self can get in our way. And yet our self is what makes us unique and powerful, different from everyone else.
When do you listen to the voice in your head, and when do you ignore it?
I’m struggling to figure out just how much self is a good thing, right now. Maybe in a future post I’ll have an answer.
6 Beliefs about Technology
I Didn’t Know What a Startup Was Until Now
I thought I knew what a startup was. I thought I wanted to work and hustle, to live the Silicon Valley lifestyle. Well, now I have.
I’ve sweated over heated product debates with the team, watched beloved coworkers abandon our vision, gone without pay for months on end, continued to believe and to iterate even while others doubted. I’ve been to the conferences, I’ve negotiated business deals, I’ve pitched to VCs.
It’s hard. It’s not glamorous. It’s not always sustainable. I think its still what I want right now, but I wonder it’s something I’d want later in life. If nothing else, it’s taught me a lot about myself — yet again, as only a committed relationship with something outside of yourself can.
Conscious Capitalism is the Future
After Trump’s election, a few friends got together to host an action group on what to do next, that I jokingly call the socialist book club. Through reading books like Four Futures: Life After Capitalism and Debt: The First 5000 Years, I’ve come to realize that capitalism has some very real structural flaws that aren’t going away any time soon — indeed, they are coming to a crux in our generation.
Accelerating technology might open a new solution to us, but in the meantime, I still believe that capitalism is the best of the economic systems we have (or the worst except for all the others, as Churchill might say). But it needs something more — it needs that subjective component, to be motivated by more than just profit. Conscious capitalism has that extra dimension, and humanity must embrace it, or it will sacrifice all in the name of profit.
Social Activism Can’t Be Hacked
Trump’s election also made politics a larger part of my life than it was before. Through the book club and my first American protest at the Women’s March, it’s got me thinking about the world in a profoundly different way that my normal hacker self.
Activist campaigns can be run well or poorly, but people aren’t software, and what works for a normal marketing campaign won’t always work for a beliefs campaign. Plus, the values in this field have been discussed, fought, and prototyped for generation — you’re stepping into an arena with ancient ideas and principles, unlike those of accelerating technology.
I look forward to getting more involved in this world in the years to come.
Bitcoin Will Continue to Climb
I’ve missed the bitcoin train so far, but I’m working on putting some money in it as soon as possible. All the smartest people I know believe fervently in it, and I’ve researched personally into the blockchain enough to know that it’s a disruptive technology that is here to stay, if nothing else.
I’m just one of many voices on the internet saying this, but I want to make this statement now, so I can look back on it when it’s huge. Let’s see if I’m right!
I Don’t Want to Live Forever
Many of my Silicon Valley comrades are fervent transhumanists who lust for immortality and believe ours is the generation that will make it truly feasible. I think it’ll take a bit longer than they think, but I do agree that science can defeat death. It’s just not something I’m currently interested in.
I don’t long to live forever — I want to have a long fruitful life shared with those I care about. Whether that’s 100 years or 1000 doesn’t matter much to me. I’d rather spend time appreciating life for what is, than time spent lusting for more of what could be.
Call me naive, buddhist, or short sighted, but right now, immortality isn’t on my wishlist.
Technology will Connect before it Alienates
Technology can be a force pulling people away from each other — anyone with an errant family member who can’t stay off their phone knows that. But it can also be a powerful force for connection. In social multiplayer games, in Slack, in Facebook friendships who don’t see each other in real life — there are more ways it brings us together than apart. And every year, that only becomes truer.
This year, standout examples of this for me were the video game Overcooked, futurist Messenger threads with friends, and team all-hands on Zoom where we shared our stream of consciousness.
7 Beliefs about the Human Condition
Immersive Theater is the Last Entertainment Frontier
With the internet constantly at our fingertips, entertainment today needs to step up to stand out. After attending a secret festival this year that had a narrative permeating the entire weekend, from actors to costumes to the music, I believe the combination of actors, props, and technology that creates immersive experiences is the future of entertainment.
It has the tactility that VR and digital experiences lack, and the human interaction we all crave, with the narrative escapism that is the core of any entertainment. I’ve noticed it picking up steam in recent years, and I expect this will continue.
Mountaineering is Fun Because it Sucks
I climbed Mount Shasta this year (no summit, sadly), in my first mountaineering adventure ever. It was fun to push myself and experience that rarified altitude, but it also was really hard, and sucked for most of it. Lift foot, place carefully, repeat. For 8 hours.
I theorize that people like mountaineering for that exact reason. It’s brutally difficult, but has a simple achievable goal — get to the top. So people do it to push themselves to a new, literal height. Not many other things in life are that simple, or that hard. It’s not my thing, but I can respect it.
Tony Robbins Is the Real Thing
I’ve always kept Tony at an arm’s length, as his snake oil sales tactics made me wary. But after watching I Am Not Your Guru this year, I was converted. Tony’s stuff is real — it has a lot of marketing heaped on top of it, but there’s something at its heart that rings true for the human condition.
Maybe he’s been rewriting Awaken the Giant Within for the last 30 years, but he knows what he’s doing. I don’t think I’ll pay thousands to go to one of his seminars, but I’ll keep sipping his kool aid from afar.
Poetry is Written Humanity
My good friend Halim got me into poetry last year, and while I haven’t written much this year, I have read more of it, and better understand what makes it special.
Poetry is words as symbols, used for what they evoke, not what they actually mean. They are beautiful because they don’t mean what they say. It’s provocative, fleeting, and tugs at your heart — just like all the best things in life.
Add mortality to beauty, and you have humanity. Nothing drove that in for me this year more than When Breath Becomes Air, and I’ve already said everything I need to about that. But my newfound respect for poetry is the beginning of a journey that isn’t ending anytime soon.
Freedom From is as Crucial as Freedom For
My socialist book club got me thinking a lot about what freedom is, and what it should be. It also introduced me to the concept of Freedom From, which for leftists is more important than the libertarian Freedom For. Being free of forces that affect you is arguably more important than being free to affect things as a force yourself.
Milton Friedman and a generation of economists have thought about this more than I have, so I have no strong conclusions as yet, but it’s an interesting way to turn the normal American value on its head. I find myself reflexively categorizing the word ‘freedom’ as one or the other every time I see it. Maybe this is the start of a more fundamental shift in my personal politics — we’ll see.
Good Coaches are Shamans
I used to scoff at life coaches, thinking they’d have no learnings for my special situation. How could they help me — they don’t know me!
But a good life coach is about asking questions, not providing answers, and I’ve met enough of them now to respect their work. Not to mention that merely experiencing someone else’s life experience can be of tremendous value to your own.
Indeed, I’ve seen some incredible life coaching this year that bordered on outright shamanism, in the vein of releasing spirits from bodies and singing tribal incantations. Magic is alive and well today — but its ingredients are faith and vulnerability, not potions.
Identity is Fluid
Perhaps the biggest learning that led to me kicking off this yearly birthday post trend is the realization that identity is fluid.
Who I am is not who I used to be. And that means who I am now is probably not who I’m going to be.
It’s weird to look back on old writings and photos and not identify with the person in them. I recognize him, but he’s not the man I see in the mirror anymore. My fashion sense has changed, my orientation of self has changed, and what I optimize for has changed.
I’m looking forward to looking back on these values, and seeing how many of them hold true next year, in five years, and beyond.
Thanks for sharing the journey with me!