Hey readers :).
Hope you’re all doing well. I was sitting today and perusing my thoughts (not an atypical occurrence :P) and they were ping-ponging like usual—emotions throwing one thought this way, a rapid counter sweeping back in response… and I thought to myself: well, you’re certainly trying very hard.
Certainly trying, and what are we trying to accomplish?
I do wonder :). For a long time before this, I always had clear goals that I was trying to accomplish, and they were the most important goals I could have, the right goals. The goals I “should” have, that the people around me agreed upon. Do well at school. Do something that’s recognized in the world. Keep yourself mentally healthy enough to do so.
Then I got to this grad school, with this work, with this set of people, with this particular environment. I asked myself a few days ago: “So this is what you get out of life? This is it?”
And yes, this is it, and it is astonishing.
I actually feel like I’ve fulfilled everything I want out of life in this moment. I mean, if life continues, and I get to have more of these things, that’s fantastic-awesome-incredible, but I really don’t think it gets much better with the minds and bodies we humans have :). I feel like I’ve hit the life milestones I’ve wanted to hit, and after this it’ll just be an adventure that writes itself when I come to the turning points.
It’s funny to me that there’s no major established life goal that I’m really striving for right now. I got to grad school, and this whole experience is far better than I could have imagined. Part of the wonder of this experience has been to show me how many options there really are in life, and how there’s not an objective right one.
Many of the people I know have a few more life goals they want to hit. Getting married, starting a family, saving the world (as it goes :P). I have friends who want some of these desperately, and are unhappy by not having them. I wanted college and grad school pretty desperately. But at the current moment, I don’t want the listed life goals desperately. I think I want to get married. It is possible that at some point I’ll want a family. I want the last one but I’m still figuring out how much I want it, and what I’m going to do about it.
I want desperately what I have :). It amuses me, sometimes, how I’ll get this frantic tinge to my thoughts, this desire to keep. This urgent wish to hold and continue to have. I hope that this feeling will gradually be replaced by a sense of wonder and gratefulness of the beauty of the moment, a kind of breathless appreciation of what is now. I think it can be.
So what do I have? What is it that I have fulfilled? I’m not done doing things—people occasionally ask me that question when I mention I’m happy with where I am :). What I have right now is a bunch of potential, a collection of goals to work on—what I have is a feeling that I’m on track to smaller goals setting out where I’d like to be. Here are some :).
I want to be accepting of myself. I want my mind to be a safe and welcoming space, where I’m comfortable with all of the emotions that arise. When I’m scared I want to be able to soothe that fear, when I’m alarmed or hurt I want those feelings to be welcomed. I want to know some of what I want and enjoy pursuing it, and I want to forgive myself when I don’t have my mind organized. There are emotions which I don’t think are necessary—which are negative when the truth of the world isn’t negative—that I’d like to reshape to match the best true version of the world. I want to fully feel the joy and wonder of living here, and I want to share that appreciation.
I want to be constantly growing. I want to feel challenged, not so much that I feel I can’t contribute, but enough that I’m always just reaching. I want to have interesting problems to think about, with a slightly overwhelming complexity. I want people around who are better than me but who care about me all the same. I want to learn deeply, but even more importantly broadly—I want to find connections in disparate knowledge.
I want to write. I want to share my thoughts in this form. I want to teach. I still haven’t taught yet, but I’ve been tutoring, and I always forget the fierce joy when someone understands a concept, when I’ve worked with them through a chain of misunderstandings and we can come back to the beginning and they understand. I want to present, and talk with individuals, and connect with people who are going to be good, who are trying. I want to be a positive point for people; I want them to like and appreciate and learn.
I want to be good enough. I want to be good enough in all the domains that I respect. It turns out that my version of “good enough” often means that I want to be considered respectable by the people around me who are the best. It has recently occurred to me that this is a cornerstone in my life—that I often am frustrated because I don’t know enough in a domain compared to the best people, but that the reason I haven’t spent the time is that I’m distributing across many domains. A friend recently told me she didn’t understand why someone would put any large amount of effort in if they couldn’t be the best. I don’t think I want to be the best. I think I want to be in the top group, in a bunch of different groups, in whatever domains I find challenging and valuable. I currently want to be good enough in introspection, in various categories of social interaction, in neuroscience, in computational psychology, in presenting / writing / teaching, in being a scientist, in various endurance sports, in knowing myself. I want to have skills enough to be potentially hired in data science and possibly software engineering, and be familiar with behavioral economics, sociology, anthropology, and pragmatics. I want to be conversant in expert-level discussion of AI, I want enough background such that people can explain most scientific topics to me, I want to know enough history and politics to understand the gist, I want to be fluent enough in science fiction and specific other “nerdy” topics, and I want to know enough pop culture to not be embarrassed. Some of these goals will fade with time, some I already finished to my satisfaction and do minimal maintenance on, some I hope to accomplish over years, and some I wish were done now. Some are pre-requisites for the others, and they vary in how much they would improve my life. Regardless, there is lots to learn.
I want to be respected by the people I respect around me. This matters a great deal. I want great people around me; people with “mission”; people who I can teach; many people I can learn from. People who care most about intellectual concepts, people who are different and express this well, people who can balance me, people who care about me, people who love life, people who are growing, people who learn, people who listen, people who push me, people who comfort me, people who try, people who love. I want many people who overlap and diverge. I want also to be recognized by many people in a more distant way; hopefully internationally, with time.
I want to want some sort of saving the world mission. I don’t know what this is. I do know that I want to share gratefulness in the world. And that a dream of mine is that more people have the happiness I have. That would be wonderful, whether through making people’s circumstances better (reducing poverty?) or changing mindsets or creating the possibility of many future generations of humans who would be able to live beyond biological bodies or after the Earth is gone—these are different scales, I don’t know how, I don’t know what this is. But that is a meta-want: happiness for others outside of me and those immediately surrounding me. Some assumption that when people are happy and content many fewer mean actions would take place, that the collective would spiral upwards for a long while. (I recognize too that I’m unbearable in how self-focused I am on people in similar circumstances to me. It seems like a great many other people are too, and I don’t know what to think about that either.)
I want to keep on thinking about social interactions. This is content-level, while many wants are a level higher than that. But I want to keep thinking about social interactions and humanity and why we are the way we are, because that’s fascinating.
So. That captures most of what I want, and what I have, and what I’m reaching for. No wonder there are so many pinging thoughts—there are lots of demands on my time here, if I’m driving for all of the above at once. If I’m wanting to hit everything at once, simultaneously :).
It would seem some prioritization is in order. But on the other hand, many of these need to be actively maintained in parallel, such that possibly I do always need to be checking how much of my time is spent on each. Moreover, I can make progress along fast learning curves if I work on objectives in parallel. This has the cost, however, of stress in not hitting various goals, when in fact I’m very happy with where I am, and don’t need nearly so many goals at all.
Ah, I’ve reached no conclusions again :). I started planning this post hoping for some, and was hoping in writing they would appear. I do suspect that the most impactful change will happen with an accepting mindset… and in that vein, I’m going to give myself some more time to see what happens, think and observe, and thank you all so much for reading :).