How to escape mediocrity

A Commencement Speech for myself

It’s time for my convocation and my birthday too. A week from now, I’ll be a post-graduate. I’ve decided not to attend the ceremony — partly because I’ve lost respect for degrees and partly because I don’t want to make the effort of going back to India so soon.

This calls for a unique opportunity — writing my own commencement speech. By myself, for myself and for you.


I read a lot as a kid. Don’t know how that habit came about, but thank you mom and dad, it was probably you. I embraced The Three Investigators, Famous Five, then Jeffery Archer and JK Rowling, as a part of me.

Come high school, and things changed a lot. The next big shift, if only I were conscious enough to recognise it then. I like to call it the beginning of the Dark Age. Not because of what happens in High School ( I hope that’s not how you read it ), but because it’s when we venture out and away from the light of our home for the first time.

The next thing you know — you’re making decisions for yourself.

Your mom isn’t there to introduce you to your crush.

You’ve lost your tools from the Imperial Information Age*. ( Did I just call my parents tools? ).

You’re deciding what to eat for lunch break.

You’re choosing who to be friends with.

You’re vying for the social status.

You’re choosing what to study.

Soon enough, You start thinking about what’s next.

You’re deciding which university to go to.

For the more aware, you’re deciding if university is the best option for you.

I like to call this moving from the Dark to the Feudal Age.

You let go of things you did earlier to make way for all the new things creeping in. Out with the old and in with the new? How do you choose what’s important and what’s not? This happens so auto-magically, that you’re not even conscious of making the choice. For the subconscious mind, if something’s not helping you survive, it’s not important. Thanks, evolution! What do you think is the first desire to go? Desire for social proof, or the desire for reading? The community can provide support to survive. Books? Are these flammable? Looks like my primitive brain won’t need firewood tonight!

Where social status becomes important, come different social classes. You get your own little ecosystem of nobles, military and peasants. You can see which category you fall into, or which category you fell into in high school. What’s not like Feudalism — is the clear path to grow and promote yourself. After every stage, you get a chance to redefine your identity, to start from scratch: to identify with whichever identity you choose to. Can you imagine getting chances like these ever so often in real life? ( Yes, you get them everyday. Let me show you)

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, we are still in the Dark Ages.

The first goal — getting to an university. The final boss of the Dark Age. It’s a clear cut path to Feudal Age, where someone’s telling you exactly what you need to do to get there. What are the boss’s weaknesses and how to exploit them. Get a good high-school grade( critical hit!), have at least one extra curricular activity (combo 2x! ), a bit of liquid luck (Felix Felicis!) and you’re there. I think that’s missing the point.

The point isn’t just to get to the Feudal Age — it’s to not stay a peasant when you reach there.

In other words,

The point isn’t just to get into University, it’s to become someone better while getting into University!

But oh well, too young to be conscious about this when in school, ain’t we?That’s copping out from the responsibility of taking control of your life.

We say we’re too young to be conscious, or too young to get a degree, but we ought to frame it differently:

I haven’t had enough time to think about being conscious to be conscious.

I haven’t had enough time to do something about getting a degree to get a degree.

Do you see the beauty of this?

When you’re too young for something, you can’t do anything about it till you’re older. You’re helpless.
When you haven’t had enough time to do something, all you have to do is find the time to do it. You’re in complete control.

Of course, the inversion works well for being too old, too.

Are you in control of your life? Source

Soon thereafter, you do get into University. Congratulations, the cycle continues! Which class do you belong to now? How long will you stay here till you realise the next path up is right at your doorstep? The next opportunity to upgrade your class comes knocking almost as soon as you get into Uni.

The next path up, is to the Castle Age. One way to get there, is a job. Have you become conscious of this cycle yet? Are you just going to move to the Castle Age, or are you going to upgrade your class as well?

This time around, the point isn’t just to get into a new job, it’s to become someone better while getting a new job!

How do you become better anyway?

How are you going to upgrade your class?

There are 2 major skills which you need to hone to upgrade yourself.

Becoming Conscious

The first thing is the staircase of consciousness.

You start at the bottom as a baby, with almost zero consciousness. There’s no autonomy, there’s no thinking involved. As you grow, you experience the world and create assumptions about the world. You assume you’ll get something you want when you cry, so you cry every time you want something, almost unconsciously. As you grow, this assumption breaks down: Now, you’re not receiving what you wanted just by crying. You need a certain level of introspection and thinking prowess to be able to realise that the assumption has broken. But once you are convinced that the assumption has broken down, you realise that your action to cry is meaningless. You just took a step up on the staircase.

Now, you hunt for new actions to get what you want. The hunt spans across your environment: Whoever you interact with, whatever you do contributes to the set of actions you can take. Crying didn’t work, but your parents told you to ask for what you want. So now you try asking for ice-cream. It worked! This builds up new assumptions. Now, the new subconscious assumption is: whenever you ask for something, you’ll get it.

Little does the young one know, that this assumption will be broken soon enough. Rather than seeing this as a time to despair, a time where shit hits the fan, see it as an opportunity to grow. An opportunity to take a step up on the consciousness staircase. For only when you have taken enough steps up the staircase, can you reach the point where your class upgrades.

A teenager who is a slave to his emotions can’t compete with a battle-hardened stock trader. The difference? Level of consciousness. How in control are they of themselves.

Reading

The second thing is our dear old friend, reading.

Do you know why you’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with? It’s because they create your social environment. When your assumptions break down, your action set to overcome your problems would be influenced by those 5 people. Like for the young one, their entire action set was composed of what the parents said.

At 22, if your action set is going to be influenced just by your parents and your peers, you can be pretty sure where you’re going to end up. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with it, should you choose to be that. The real tragedy is when you’re not high enough on the consciousness staircase to realise this: thus struggling through advice, taking you where you don’t want to go.

And this is where reading comes in. You get to learn from the best in the world. People who’ve done what you want to do, who’ve done it for much longer than you and who’re passing on that information to everyone in the world who wants to earn it. Are you taking advantage of this infinite resource? Are you looking further than your social environment to solve your problems? If you do, your action set will never be the same again. Having trouble making decisions? Go look for the best book on decision making, read it, expand your mind. Expanding your mind sounds synonymous to adding more items to your action set, doesn’t it?


Sure enough, treading along the beaten path, you’re going to get to the final Imperial Information Age. The question is, will you be a peasant when you reach the Imperial Age, or a noble. That is determined solely by the actions you take.

Sprinkle a little bit of luck on top, and you might just make it to an even better place — You become the lucky noble who takes over the crown next.


Happy Birthday, and a very Happy Graduation, Neil. It’s time to take on the quest for the crown.

Neil, Brighton Beach, United Kingdom

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* For people who don’t get the reference, I’m talking about the Ages in Age of Empires. So Dark Age < Feudal Age < Castle Age < Imperial / Information Age.

To know more about how to leverage the staircase of consciousness, check out Wait But Why ‘s amazing post here.