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Reflection: On meeting driven people

Context: This is the second reflection from Hive Global Leadership program, a three-day gathering of passionate people who are “creating a better world and solving humanity’s biggest challenges”. The first post is here. This post is a collection of thoughts about different phases of life, about feeling driven and lost. I write this as a guide for myself in the future, and I hope it speaks to you too.

My intention attending Hive was to learn, to connect and to share. I often go to programs like this with the expectation to make 3–4 friends whom I feel connected with (definition: someone whom I will have an hour-long engaging conversation with), and I was quite satisfied. There are always too many interesting people and never quite enough time. I’ve written about FOMO in an essay before, and while I think I’ve transformed that fear, it is somewhat strange to see some parts of it pop up again. It is like a rehabilitated addict who is scared of being around the drugs. The pressure is real, but I’ve learned to be more mindful of my own thoughts: “Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed or regretful, stay present.” Cherish those feelings. What does regret feel like? How about overwhelm? Aren’t they interesting? Even though we may often experience certain emotions, there is always a kind of rawness and novelty whenever they arise, and we may want to attend to them with a spirit of wonder.

What did I share?
Some of my connections. A few of my stories. Some listening, some personal insights. Lastly, I’m realizing that one of my gifts as a philosophy dilettante is my willingness to listen, get curious and ask. I often ask people questions that I asked myself before, like the idiosyncratic scientist who has to experiment on himself first, although sometimes some moments are just too charming I give in to my own curiosity and ask anyway. A question that recently emerged is “What are you sensing that you are about to learn?” It reveals our inner tension in a way that invites for an answer. Hearing the answers often surprises me, not so much about the content of the answers itself but rather the fact that people can sense and articulate it really well.Somehow a part of us instinctively knows it — that little shy Me that often gets thrown aside for whatever interfaces we put on around others. Like a wild animal, this part needs to be seen and touched with tenderness, and when it is, we are awed at how beautiful it is.

It was a joy to meet that many interesting people whom I can get curious about. In particular, I admire people who are goal-driven because I don’t think I am like that (yet?) I wonder what motivates them. At Hive we often use the word mission- or purpose-driven. While they are somewhat similar, the term “question-driven” sticks better for me. Perhaps it speaks to the inner child part of me? Every 4-year old child asks “Why am I here?” They may not know what the word “purpose” or “mission” mean — these are adult language — but they do wonder Whys all the time. They are Why-driven, How-driven, What-driven and most importantly Wow!-driven.

No one can help us answer the “What makes you come alive?” question better than our children. Perhaps it is one reasons that Lynne Twist said “Children are our elders in universe time”, a phrase that kept ringing in my head ever since. It made me think about another musing I had before, “What if humans grow like trees?” For a tree, the lower part of the trunk closest to the root is the most youthful yet also most elder by age. Humans shouldn’t be much different. The closer we are to our deeper root, the more youthful energy we have. Somehow something happens between the child and the elder stage: as we become adult, we forget this truth, get lost in the busy day to day life and ask ourselves why we aren’t feeling alive.

Speaking of children, I met Rachel, an amazing entrepreneur and a mother of five. I shared with her a thought that made me somewhat sad: I would never be able to understand how a mother feels. She asked me “Imagine you have to pay 100% attention on another being 24/7, and you will know what it feels like”, and I thought to myself “Wow, what can be a better practice of being present than taking care of an infant?” I have so much admiration for moms these days; indeed the most telling line in anyone’s resume is “mother of [some number] healthy loving caring children”. What else speaks more about someone’s capacity to work? I have tried half an hour of baby sitting before, and boy it was rough.

Meeting people who are so driven also made me wonder: Am I that driven? Part of me yearns to have such a compelling purpose. Another part of me says that maybe I don’t always have to have one — or more precisely, I will need to have a purpose and then let it go and live in that drifting phase for a while. And that is really ok, perhaps even essential to growing up (which many say happens not only when I’m 23 but also 46 and 69 and even 90) Motivation comes in waves. Whenever I feel lost, I know that I am clinging to some old ideas about myself or the world. I’m stuck in the familiar past. With that understanding, I can reframe “feeling lost” as learning to let go, to be open to the vast possibilities, to accept uncertainty while making sense of it. Feeling lost is the best time to pause and appreciate the complexity each of us holds. It is also time to experiment, to create.

As a side note, now whenever I hear the phrase “driven” I thought “I’m not a car to be driven”, and I’m only half-joking. Language does matter. Many prefer the word “driven” perhaps because much of our metaphor still comes from the mechanistic world. I use that term too, for sometimes it is helpful to speak the popular language that people can identify with (Sales 101 right there). Yet while using that language, we can dream of a more beautiful language and invite others to join us. I’m thinking of the computer scientists who invent programming languages, the coolest kind of entrepreneur in my opinion: They dream of a language that expresses better, and they create it.

We all have that magical power of creation to some extent: you know it exists whenever you hear yourself saying something and realize “Wow, I didn’t know I could say that”. These moments have been the best moments for me, and somehow the people around me also shared that it was impactful for them too. The funny thing is that I didn’t even plan for it. I tried to reflect on those moments to see what I did, and the only insight I got was that there was no formula. We were simply in tuned with ourselves and with the moment.

"It doesn't matter whether he knows what he serves:
Who serves best doesn't always understand."
"Love" by Czeslaw Milosz

Indeed, I don’t always have to understand.