This Thursday, Niklas Göke had the courage to describe 40 things he loves about himself. An admirable act of vulnerability and audacity. If you think it’s a rather arrogant thing to do, you’re missing the point of the exercise.
You see, like many including myself (thank you, Jon Brosio and Erika Chaudhary), Nik got tagged in the newest chain post making the rounds on Medium, where writers allow their readers to see the person behind the words. The original idea was to list 40 things one enjoys about life, but Nik decided to give it a more personal twist.
My default style is already on the personal side and I would be disappointed if you, my esteemed reader, feel like you don’t know me. I make a point to create a writing persona that does not diverge from how I am in real life. A parent of a friend once said to me that, in a social-media-dominated age where we prioritize popularity over authenticity, that act of vulnerability makes my posts valuable even if I would write total bullshit.
I can only hope so.
What not many people know is that, of course, I also feel the fear of opening up and sometimes succumb to it and swallow my voice.
That’s why I decided to complete this challenge Nik-style.
- Priorities. I spend a lot of time thinking about my priorities in life and concluded that spending time enjoyably is what matters most to me. I suppose it’s possible I’ll lie on my deathbed regretting that I didn’t work harder, write more, and say everything I had to say, but I think what I’ll really wish is that I could have one more moment with the people I love. If this is my heart’s deepest desire, then I’m cool with that.
- Intelligent. I was lucky to be born with a good brain. The fact that I’m book-smart has made many things easy for me that others have had to work harder for. During high school, for example, I finished homework pre-dinner. Nights and weekends off.
- Efficient. Talking about homework, I’m one of the most efficient people I know. I have a system for everything and that enables me to undertake many ventures, such as running a blog and a podcast on top of doing my PhD. I might be robotic at times, but the wide variety of cool projects my efficiency allows me to engage in without feeling busy or stressed makes my life a lot more interesting.
- Cold. It is my wet dream to write out everything people say in propositions formulated in formal logic. This might not be so wise, but it’s often how I translate sentences in my mind. And people say I don’t listen 😅.
- Critical. Critical thinking is part of my specialization as a philosopher, and I’m quite skilled at quickly understanding an argument or idea. More ambitious friends have even asked me to get a drink with the explicit aim of them telling me their plans and me doing my critical thinking thing and asking the hard questions. Win-win!
- Happy. My default mode is happiness, and it often takes me little effort to return to that way of being. It’s unconscious. When I found out, for example, yesterday, that what I consider my best article to date for some God-forsaken reason didn’t get curated by the Medium gods, I was angry for five minutes and then surrendered to positive thoughts again. I even wanted to be angry but couldn’t.
- Curious. Intellectually, there are so many things that captivate me. Here on Medium, in the last 11 months, I’ve published long-reads on capitalism, evolution, productivity, meaning in life, goal-setting, cognition, narratives, confidence, unhappiness, Nietzsche, philosophy, and countless other topics. This wasn’t the plan, but all these subjects are just so fascinating! When you see this list, and think I’m a “wandering generality”, not really knowing what I’m talking about in any of these areas, I understand. If you do, please read my essays and let me change your mind!
- Direct. I’m honest. I’m also not the best reader of social clues. But yeah, I tend to not worry about that and speak my mind — without being an asshole. This saves me a lot of useless rumination.
- Worst sense of rhythm ever. I’m the worst dancer ever. I just don’t “feel” it. Depending on how drunk I am, I’ll still be giving it my all. Totally off the beat, of course.
- Singing. When I’m not reading or writing or talking or thinking I usually sing. Under the shower, doing the laundry, cooking, and so forth. Why wouldn’t I? My former housemates hung a whiteboard in the bathroom, on which they would request songs they’d like me to sing. That was so much fun.
- Fine by myself. It’s not rare for me to literally not converse with a human being for 24 hours or longer. This happens one or two days a week. I used to be ashamed of this, but now I like the fact that I am fine with myself. It’s fun inside here.
- Deep. I don’t care about small talk. When you catch me talking to a friend, it’ll usually be about some obscure philosophical theory, or productivity and goal setting, or meaningful stuff that has been going on in our lives.
- Helpful. I try to help people where I can. When someone asks me to read a paper, or to paint a wall or whatever when someone’s moving, I gladly do these things. I usually enjoy doing something to help someone I care about more than doing something for myself. I believe people are fundamentally good.
- Stable. My emotional-intensity line is rather flat. This allows me to operate myself in the ways I want to, so that’s cool.
- Sense of direction. I have no sense of direction whatsoever, so how to get somewhere is always a mystery and adventure for me, even in my hometown. My friends make fun of this, and I gladly play along.
- Clumsy. I’m terribly bad with anything that requires any kind of physical skill. I still try though! I see this as a nice reminder that every person has its own unique talents, and I’m very lucky that our society happens to value intelligence.
- Low tolerance for vagueness. When someone asks me whether I’m happy or — as I noticed girlfriends tend to do — whether I love someone, my first response used to be: “Define ‘love.’” Or, “What do you mean by ‘happiness?’” I’ve since realized that this is not a particularly well-advised answer. But I still think it’s adorable.
- Man, Niklas, 40 is a lot. I didn’t even know I had 40 characteristics, let alone 40 lovable ones.
- Family first. My mother passed away when I was 12. I hope I never have to experience something like that again. I hope no one has. My father, brother, and sister got me through it. They’ll always be #1.
- Love of experience. Sam Harriss once wrote: “Everything we do is for the purpose of altering consciousness.” I think that’s false, but it highlights an important truth. Having many different experiences is something I actively pursue in life. I write trip reports and have a separate bucket list for psychedelics I still want to try. Exciting.
- Ambitious. I want big things and I take my own goals seriously. I never understood why many people do so many non-challenging things. Why they don’t aim high. If it’s not to be the best you possibly can, given the time you’re willing to spend on it, then what’s the fucking point of making an effort?
- Positivity. I make a point to never complain or say something negative about someone else (there’s a difference between condemning a person and criticizing behavior). This makes my life much more enjoyable. You should either (1) try to change the situation, (2) accept the situation or (3) remove yourself from the situation. Everything else is pointless.
- Self-investment. I want to develop myself and am open to the fact that I can improve in many ways. I’m 25 now and have had multiple psychologists, coaches, mentors, advisors and accountability partners — and not because I had mental illnesses. How many 25-year-olds can say that? Admitting that I have ‘room for growth’, make mistakes, or might be wrong, comes naturally to me, and I love myself for that.
- Openness. A friend once described me as “open as fuck.” I share a lot and sometimes wonder whether I should be stricter in this, but in general I am willing to share any part of myself to anyone at any time and on any level. I have nothing to lose by sharing myself. At the worst, people reject me and, well, they’re going to reject me if all I do is talk about boring stuff like sports and my job anyway, so what’s the problem?
- Low tolerance for stimulation. I don’t need parachute jumping for my neurotransmitters to go through the roof. ASMR is enough. This makes life easy.
- Future-oriented. When I was video calling with my family this Wednesday, we mainly talked about what I will do in 1,5–2 years — after I’ve finished the PhD. This allows me to align what I’m doing on a daily basis with where I want to be. If what I do now doesn’t contribute to my ideal life, I stop doing it. Things are either part of my plan, or fun, or a waste of time. People should think more about this.
- Smile. I smile unconsciously. The default mode of my face has my lips curled upwards. People sometimes ask me what’s so funny, and I’ll say, “Nothing.” It’s just my natural mode.
- Non-materialistic. I don’t care much for money. True, I’ve been lucky to never have to worry about it. But I also hardly buy stuff. I get my furniture at the local pawn shop and go for clothes twice a year, for example. I just don’t care. Last year, I treated myself to a luxurious noise-canceling headphone that was over 200 Euros. Probably the wildest thing I ever bought.
- Checking in with myself. I meditate daily, and the first thing I do when I enter my head is to ask myself: “Hey bro, I’m back. How are you doing?” This invariably gives me goosebumps. It feels good to look after yourself.
- Humor. My attempts at being funny often fail, but I love laughing. I watch comedy for study breaks, and when I’m by myself I habitually think of jokes to make. Laughter strikes me as an indispensable ingredient of a good life — a high priority (see #1).
- Uneasy. For some reason, even though I share a lot, when things get intimate, I get uncomfortable as fuck. I don’t know why. I think this is cute.
- No stress. I sometimes feel sad, but that’s the primary negative emotion I experience. I almost never feel stressed. Sure, I’m nervous at times, but I’m never overwhelmed. People regularly ask me how I can be so calm. I think it just comes down to adequately estimating how many hours your commitments need. If these calculations are accurate, and don’t exceed the number of hours you’re willing to spend on work-stuff, why should you be stressed? Busyness is often lazy prioritizing —hence self-imposed. That makes no sense to me.
- My eyes. People often tell me I have beautiful eyes. They’re green-grey-ish. Yeah I know, super special. Thanks Mom.
- Self-discipline. When I’ve set a schedule, I stick to it. As long as it makes sense, serves my life, I can get myself to do most things rather easily.
- Travel. Since I spent 5 months in Africa in 2016–7, I’m hooked on experiencing other cultures. The Hungarian stipend I get now, unfortunately, doesn’t allow me to make many trips, but it’s definitely the plan for later. I can’t wait to take 2–3 months “mini-retirements” (as Tim Ferriss calls them) in another country, every year. Thank you, Medium Partner Program.
- Willingness to make myself uncomfortable. Do you know that annoying nerd who sits in the front of the class and consistently puts his hand up first when the teacher asks who wants to present? That’s me. Seeing a psychologist, telling my family I miss them, submitting something to my supervisor and getting criticized every week — these things aren’t easy and make me nervous. But if you don’t do them, what’s the point?
- Gratefulness. Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent months in Africa and Cambodia or years in Hungary now, but the efficiency of the infrastructure in the Netherlands never ceases to amaze me. Every Dutch person who ever complains about this has an overinflated sense of entitlement.
- Selectiveness. I know what I’m doing at places, and why. I don’t bother socializing with people I’m not going to have a long-term connection with. All good things in life come from compounded interest. I carefully pick the people I expose myself to.
- Neutrality. I’m not big on making claims about how people ought to live. Contrary to many self-help types, I believe there’s no truth of the matter as to whether climbing the mountain is better than a relaxed life filled with savoring. As long as you yourself assent to the prioritizing. As long as you are at peace with the way you are, productive or not, you have nothing to prove.
- Life is short. Remember #1? If not, re-read it. Do it now. My mother died young, I’ve never really known any of my grandparents, and some of my aunts got taken by cancer too. Genes? I might not live long. So I’m not going to waste time doing shit I don’t care about or impressing people I don’t care about.
When participating in challenges like this, it is customary to pass on the spotlight by tagging a few people. I’m not going to do that. It would imply that only those Chosen Ones can follow-up on this post and that it would be weird for someone I didn’t tag to take his/her cue from it. I don’t want to imply that, because this exercise is way too valuable.
So, whoever you are, whether I know you or not and regardless of whether I might have tagged you, I dare you to publish your own 40 things you love about yourself.
There’s more to that
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