2016: Integration

What if life can be more seamlessly integrated like a flock of birds?

My theme for the year is “Integration”.

Abstractly, I think of fusion, alignment, combination, of creation of something bigger. I have this picture in mind of birds swiftly sailing in the sky, parting and confluencing into flocks, effortlessly, beautifully.

Personally, it means not only bringing different parts together but also ensuring they all flow well with each other and the environment. To see the whole from the parts, to make sense of the messes. I’ve always been the “do whatever interesting” kind of person, which has led to interesting pursuits. I want to take stock of my skill sets, aspirations and values and see what I can do with all those endeavours.

I mused over this post for a while. One of the things I realize over the year is that one can only learn well what one chooses to put one’s heart and mind into. If writing about how I want to be doesn’t inspire me, I’m not doing it right.

What Integration means to my life:

  • Integrating different sides of me: I’m fairly rational, and I want to be more reasonable — to act with greater awareness, judgment and poise. I have also been exploring more the intuitive, unexplainable and sometimes ridiculous side, and I am trusting it will be just as good for me and for the world as the thinking part. We are all multi-faceted creatures, but somehow environments don’t often allow our full expression. How might we develop all these sides? What personal practices and environment will allow them to flourish?
  • Integrating myself with the environment: It so happens that sometimes I can look like a non-comformist. Most of the time it is accidental; I’m just unaware of the whole environment, the explicit and implicit rules and assumptions. I’m now realizing that it is important to fit in many settings. As one of my teachers once said “You have to conform first before you can transform.”
  • Generate, bring together and make sense of diverse perspectives: I want to continue welcoming different ideas and values. A big part of education for me is learning to see the world better, and I cannot do that with only one pair of eyes. I don’t think I have a strong stance on almost anything, which is a natural consequence of the two values I want to focus on, Truth and Contribution. What I like about the Effective Altruism community is that people disagree with each other all the time for the sake of truth. Sometimes our egos can get in the way if we are on our own, so having a community who practice and embody that commitment to the truth is crucial. In a more ideal world, people will lovingly ask each other “Can I disagree with you?” and explain “Here are my assumptions”. I don’t know how to do it at a large scale; I’m trying to practice it more on my own and with other people around me. We can disagree without being disagreeable.

Some main areas that this theme will manifest:

  • Work: Work will be varied yet coherent. I aspire to contribute through my work perspectives, thoughtfulness and also spontaneity. In doing so, work will be more fun and meaningful. The details of what work looks like are still in the midst, but there are a few pointers from experiences: the moments I felt most alive have been those where I witness and partake in the creation of a something new, whether it is a new idea, a personal connection or a group of people coming together.
  • Relationships: I once wrote about my vision for the future Nothing is clear, except that I will meet many different people. I want to be more intentional with quality time with people, because in being so we can integrate different parts of ourselves and help each other realize our potential. Personally, I want to integrate what I enjoy giving and what the situation needs: openness, a willingness to learn and attention — the most basic yet potent potion I can always give.

How do I make sure I am on track? What can I measure? I believe in number but weary of its wrong use, which reminds me of the quote by V. F. Ridgway, ‘What gets measured gets managed — even when it’s pointless to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the purpose of the organisation to do so.’ Managing oneself is no different. There are more intangibles than tangibles in this world, and it makes more sense to pay attention to the latter.

There is one useful yardstick I’m adopting though: a subjective sense of beauty. Something that I changed my mind about recently is the role of beauty. Before, I thought of it as an add-on, as in to “beautify” things. Now I think of beauty more like happiness: it cannot be pursued directly but rather emerged from coherent integration. When things click, beauty arises: the beauty of the mind and body, of reasons and intuition, of functionality and aesthetics, of substance and appearance, of shiny little things and complex stuff, of art, nature and most importantly, of the moment.

A few pointers for this exciting year:
– Keep on reading, writing and leveraging on those. I actually have a perspective and thoughts to share. For example, writing this will help me and others see clearer the process of crystallizing a vision for oneself. One does need guidance and example in the journey to “Know thyself”.
– Do more. Right now I happen to thrive in doing multiple projects at once. Test my own balancing skill!
– Life is to be lived, not just studied — reminder for the nerdy side of me.
– When in doubt, focus on contribution. As Peter Drucker said, a person grows according to the demands he makes on himself, according to what he considers as achievement and attainment. To me, achievement is to realize potentials and to make unique contributions.

There is an ongoing tension I experience all the time: following what I’m currently inclined to do and doing what the world needs the most. Integrating the knowledge about myself and about the world to carve out that sweet spot is an exciting challenge worth embracing.

Cheers to a more integrated 2016!

p/s: Sometimes personal letter can feel too personal — who cares? How is this relevant to my reader? What values am I adding? Then I remembered the tagline I wrote for my Medium profile “I write to make connections among world: my inner worlds, the worlds of others and the World.” and realized I was asking the wrong questions. I’m not looking to write — I’m looking for connections, and sharing this intimate process of making sense of my inner world is how I will discover them.