23

six months of adulthood: a retrospective

My famously unkempt apartment. San Francisco, Oct. 2018.

If there’s one word that could characterize my life right now, it’s the last one I could have predicted: stability.


I moved to San Francisco at the beginning of September, when summer was just starting to fade into fall. Having never lived in this city before, it took me about two months to get comfortably settled in. It seemed like the right amount of time to lull myself into a happy reverie — to get into a familiar rhythm, to feel like I had things under control.

Nowadays I’m used to my life constantly taking 180° shifts, so much so that I’m genuinely surprised when things go according to plan. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still gingerly waiting for something to break. But if tomorrow the sky starts to fall, at least I will have taken nothing for granted today.

Self-fulfillment can be a complex beast to dissect — but when it comes down to it, it can be a binary one as well. To the question of whether I like my life, the answer is a strong yes. And just in case you were wondering, the honeymoon phase of post-grad life looks like this:

Twitter’s sunny rooftop deck. Great spot for lunching and drinking smoothies.

Every morning I come to the office and arrive in a literal playground. Twitter’s headquarters are full of natural lighting and airy décor, with cute bird puns fluttering around every corner. I am happy when I come to work — I feel valued, like my contributions matter — and I am surprised at what a positive impact this makes in my life.

Of course, it helps tremendously that all my basic needs are taken care of. I am fairly compensated, I am well-fed, I am warm. And despite living in one of the most expensive cities in America, I have a sublease on an apartment in a safe neighborhood, I have great healthcare coverage, and I have ample time to pursue my interests at the end of each day.

Having experienced what it’s like to not have all these benefits, they are now indispensable to my quality of life. Just holding up my healthcare card makes me feel like I’ve cheated my way up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I know that my European friends would laugh at me for touting as luxuries what they would deem necessities. But I count my blessings every damn day.

In terms of material possessions, I don’t own much that I couldn’t fit into an oversized suitcase. Outside of expensive electronic devices, my most prized possessions are the souvenirs that I’ve taped to the far end of my wall. Every few days, I dotingly supplement this growing paper collage with new additions — photos, ticket stubs, cards, postcards, stickers and hand-written letters — which accumulate in lockstep with new events in my life.

My friends are scattered all across the world now, but I like the people who are around me. San Francisco is a city where the power brokers wear 100% cotton hoodies, deploy laser-sharp judgements of competence, Lyft and Uber everywhere, drink $7 organic fair-trade coffees on their way to work, and can never stop talking about tech. To put it lightly, it’s an interesting — if highly specialized — crowd.

Perhaps what I like the most about this city is that the games people play here are explicit, with the rules clearly demarcated. Everyone buys into the premise from the beginning; chaos can ensue from there. This sentiment goes a long way towards explaining why people in San Francisco are so obsessed with board games. After all, it is a truth universally acknowledged that recurring Avalon, Coup, and Secret Hitler nights are a critical staple of the technorati’s social scene. (A risk-free venue for plotting political power plays, perhaps? The world may never know!)

Networks here are particularly close-knit, because everyone seems to know each other from [insert top university/tech employer/highly specific shared interest group/elite fellowship here]. Since having these affiliations means undergoing rigorous selection processes that ultimately optimize for a similar set of criteria, you end up with a city full of young, intelligent, and like-minded transplants, who, incidentally, all converge into one location for the same reason — their careers.

Moreover, since even the outwardly diverse are not significantly different from anyone else in their cohorts, you get a perfect recipe for what a philosopher might call “Girardian terror.” San Francisco is homogenizing faster than it can diversify because the people who are self-selected to be here end up living in the same high-rises, working at the same places, shopping at the same stores, eating at the same restaurants, reading the same books, playing with the same apps, even working out in the same gyms at the same times. Unsurprisingly, this creates a perfect bubble — a perfect mirrortocracy.

And six months out, the Silicon Valley bubble reminds me a lot of another bubble as well.

Looking back, I realize that Harvard was an extraordinary place, but also an extremely lonely one.

Living on my own after graduation has given me the necessary distance to reflect on my undergraduate years. Specifically, I am beginning to parse through the fundamental tradeoffs between happiness and ambition — between one’s need for security and one’s appetite for risk.

Lately I’ve realized that ambition, at its core, necessitates discontent. In order to be ambitious, you need to strive for something beyond just the status quo. You need to be hungry for something more than what’s already on your plate, and you need to be willing to leave your comfort zone in order to find it.

The most effective dreamers are the loneliest ones — the ones who are pragmatic enough to spend countless hours working towards a goal instead of indulging in creature comforts.

Call it passion; call it insanity. When presented with the option of work versus friends/family/love/play/sleep/literally anything else that could possibly create happiness in the present, ambitious people would rather prioritize work to advance a future payoff that is far from guaranteed. That relentless drive to execute on their goals then bleeds into everything they do. Anything in service of materializing a vision, right?

For most conventionally successful overachievers in the world, a clear expectation of getting into college was what made them successful in high school, and a clear expectation of choosing a career was what made them successful in college. Nothing was impossible, as long as a definitive end goal existed and there were clear stepping stones to getting there.

The unfortunate caveat to all of this is that college is not a one-stop-shop for figuring out the meaning of life. (As a confused philosophy major, I can definitely attest to this.) Post-graduation, the goals are far from clear. And in the meantime, existence becomes so expensive. Everything now comes at a cost — living, breathing, housing, food, having money, being broke, indecision, certainty, optionality, regret, work, leisure — even happiness itself.

And honestly, that’s the beauty and terror of being 23. After a lifetime of chasing self-actualization, I’m finally at an age where my dreams are merging into my reality. I now have the power to decide where I live, what I do, who I love, and how I spend my time. It’s liberating, it’s grand. It’s scary as hell. I don’t have all the answers anymore, and neither does anyone else.

Maybe that’s the fun of it — who’s to say? I have no idea what the future holds, but I’m bullish on the year ahead. After all, if I’ve made it this far, nothing can break me. (Trust me, I’m a 90’s baby; we’re an indestructible breed.) So buckle your seatbelts, darling; time and invincibility are on my side. Now that I’m finally in the driver’s seat, you better believe I’m taking life for a ride.