Hi, beautiful people —
This is the second to last letter on my college reflection series. I’ve talked about what it means to be someone valuable and uplifting to others; for this one, I want to talk about the relationship I got to develop with myself in college.
As an only child, I have an unfair advantage of feeling totally fine hanging out with myself. I remember binge reading mysteries and slaying monsters on my PlayStation Portable 1000 (OG) til mid-night and tucking my guilty pleasure away in my sheets when I heard whispers as my parents finally returned home from work. I could conjure up spaceships and castles and indulge myself in my own world, and later I’ve come to realize the ability to enjoy solitude is a superpower. An ongoing inner dialogue with myself ensures that I don’t wander too far from my own path when voices scream at me from all directions.
With decent amount of persistence and strategy, I align some of these indulgences with something more valuable in the eyes of others. Reading becomes knowing, gaming becomes strategizing, and sketching becomes designing. Writing — I’m still writing. What was once my entertainment and escape have become a crucial part of who I am, because they start to have an impact not just on myself but on others.
Now, when people ask me what I do for fun, as much as I know how uninspiring my answer may sound, I tell them I like to work. As a full-time student, I spent most of my time working on making things for Cornell or for startups. The best thing that college has provided me. Is not the education, but a fail-safe and allowed me to explore virtually everything with no consequence. I used to get very defensive and guilty when someone called me out for working too much or being a hermit, so I’d make self-deprecating jokes to change the topic, but I’m learning to be proud of that.
The love for one’s work really isn’t that much different from the love for another person. It goes through phases — from initial interest, to sheer bliss, to extensive research, to total obsession, to frustration, and finally to complete acceptance. The progression is not linear but cyclical. If you stick with someone you’d discover something new about them that’d interest you again, and the same goes with the work that you do. Most people settle for something that didn’t spark their interests in the first place, or they decide to let go when the obsession goes away. The lack of perseverance can explain this, but I believe it’s mostly due to the misperception of “happiness” and the myth of “impactful work” created by corporate advertisement and the stories told by the supposedly “winners” of the zero-sum games in elite institutions.
“You’ll be super happy and fulfilled and making an impact if you work at X. They provide free massages and even do your laundry.”
This could easily be tweaked and turned into an ad from a dating agency.
“You’ll be super happy and fulfilled and excel at whatever you do if you marry X. They provide free massages and even do your laundry.”
When we’re disillusioned, we usually resort to cynicism, confusion, escape, or even anger: “If this is truly the happiness that everyone seeks after, why am I feeling this way?”
To love one’s work is not just to be “happy,” which can simply be short-term gratification that may hinder long-term fulfillment. To love one’s work is to be willing to navigate our ambiguous place in this world, why are we here, and how are we relevant? Monetary compensation, prestige, and external recognition can only go so far to provide you the answers to those questions. That’s the problem with lots of high paying jobs, as an inquisitive, passionate, and connection-longing soul is brutally alienated from the intention and the outcome of their own labor. People can tell you that the search bar you designed has changed lives of millions, or that the company you just saved by cutting operational cost may provide employment opportunities for thousands of people — all of this can feel extremely valuable but also extremely unreal at the same time. That’s why it’s not surprising to find a fitness instructor with ten happy clients so much more fulfilled than an engineer in Silicon Valley who’s making the whole human race better off.
An immediate and deceivingly simple remedy to this problem, as I often tell others, is to work on a side project that you actually care about and make sure that thing is valuable to others (this is why I started BKYD with Maya). Even if the outcome isn’t what you expected, the experience will still be highly relevant and unique to you.
As I’m wrapping up this letter, it’s becoming clear that my relationship with work is indispensably tied to my relationship with myself and with others around me. And the fundamental secret to all relationships? Love 💙.
👋🏻 If you made it this far. I have some updates.
After some discussions with friends, I’m making this newsletter a channel to discover and connect creators and thinkers who are navigating the future.
If you or anyone you know want to be a part of this, please drop a line. I’ll reach out for a short interview.
Things I’d love to know.
(1) What are you working on? Why does it matter?
(2) What are things that you see and most people around you don’t see yet?
(3) How do you think this will impact the human experience (can be as broad as our civilization or as narrow as our experience going to restaurants?)
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