Fragmented thoughts of a fragmented mind

03 Mar 2013

what I'm truly passionate about

Over the past week, there was a series of random events which reminded me over and over again, what I am truly passionate about.

I started the week with attending Ignite Strata 2013, only because my boss Joyce was speaking. Being in a car from the city all the way to Santa Clara isn’t my idea of how I want to spend a weekday evening, but I kept telling myself to have an open mind. My natural tendency after a long day of work is to go straight home and recover and after a long week of work the same tendency occurs during the weekends and I prefer to stay at home, again.

I observed my own behavior pattern and I realised that if I left it up to my own natural tendencies, all I’ll do over here is to work and be home. There is nothing inherently wrong with it, but what used to excite me about being in San Francisco was the potential of the community I could meet. I wanted to meet more like-minded people, find out what they’re doing, tell them what I want to do, have osmoses of ideas, refine my own ideas, provide feedback to other people’s ideas. That was in my ideal, imagined world. I wanted to meet with people not only from the tech industry, but from the vibrant mis-mash of niche communities here. Craft, food, alternative healing, unicorns, writers, whatever.

But all I felt like doing apart from work was going home.

I actually staged a mental intervention for myself. I had to negotiate and patiently explain to myself that, if all I do is to move between work and home, I really would never meet anybody I want to meet. It is not rocket science to figure that out, but people really have no idea how deceptive our own minds can be.

I decided the only way to change that pattern is to pre-commit myself to events, whether I ‘felt like it’ or not. I am convinced that if I only did things whenever I ‘felt like it’, I would never amount to anything. This is a constant theme throughout interviews with accomplished people, especially authors. If they wrote only when they felt like it, they would never end up completing their books. It takes a tremendous amount of disciple and sheer focus to do something.

I am a great believer of random creativity and chaos, but we forget our lizard brains try to convince us to remain in our comfort zones. At least my brain does. I need outside stimulus to inspire internal creativity, but being an introvert I tread on the thin line of being over-stimulated and burning out. It is a fine balance I have to maintain and I don’t deny that many times I am simply afraid being overwhelmed all over again, so I developed the tendency of avoiding such situations.

There are always tradeoffs to be made, what is the point of keeping myself in pristine condition when I exist almost in a vacuum? In order to see the world I have to accept that plenty of times I will fall into some pit holes and I have to be okay with that. In order to meet new people I have to accept that I will have to put up with that feeling of being drained, as much as I really dislike it. You can’t find diamonds without mining through the earth.

So I decided to take that long drive to Santa Clara with my boss, well at least I didn’t have to drive. The string of talks were fascinating in their own ways, seeing how different people used various sets of data to their own scenarios, but it was one talk towards the end which gave me that feeling. That feeling I feel when I know that I was somehow meant to attend this event after all, even though I literally had to drag myself to it.

It was a talk by a Palantir engineer – he started by asking how many of us in the audience used our tech skills in philanthropy work? Now, if you knew me a little bit more, you would know I am writing a series of posts on Medium on how to change the world with lines of code. I have previously written on the same topic before on my old posterous blog, it is a topic that I am constantly revisiting over and over again. My angle may change, the context may change, but it has always been the same for me – I strongly believe that software can have a tremendous positive impact on the world.

When I heard the question, my ears perked up, I sat straight up, my eyes almost doubled in size while waiting in anticipation. My mind was blown away when that engineer, with an official title as the “Philanthropy Lead”, showed us demos of how Palantir’s software was used to analyze big data in order to deliver humanitarian aid for disasters. To see this being demonstrated on that scale on something I fervently believed in was incredibly moving on a personal level for me.

I attended “Shut up and write!” in the Mission on Wednesday, a meetup I deliberately registered for, though I knew I still wouldn’t feel like going to after a long day of work, but I trusted myself to make it because I registered for it. I wrote my third post in the Medium series in that hour where everybody simply shut up and wrote. lol. They were mostly people writing their novels, I felt funny being almost the only person there writing a blog post, but what mattered was that silent sense of community. The subject is very close to my heart and I was very much afraid that I wouldn’t be able to convey my emotions, ideas and thoughts fully in that one hour effort. I published it anyway without spending too much time editing it, I simply had to believe in the iterative nature of ideas. At the very least I am putting something raw out to the world and hopefully feedback would return in some form, so that I can improve on it.

Simply being there at that meetup in a roomful of writers for only an hour was very reinvigorating for me.

Finally, on thursday, I saw a write up on the TED 2013 winner. He decided to put computers at rural Indian villages and found out that kids taught themselves complex concepts like DNA replication with no supervision or guidance. Again, I subconsciously sat up straight to read whatever I could find on him. I felt my pulse quicken, my cells come alive.

Time and time again, I just knew. These are the moments when I knew where my passion lies because I simply felt it in its truest form. That form it takes, it makes me feel my entire being is lighted up with fire.

These posts I write, they don’t receive much readership. To be extremely honest, most of the time I feel like I am writing to a vacuum and it does affect me. But I catch myself at these times and I gently remind myself over and over again, I am not writing for mass readership or spikes in numbers. I am writing in hope to connect to those who are on similar tangents. They are far and few in between, but again, it is a tradeoff I have to be willing to make.

Once in a very long while, I receive some feedback like this, and that alone makes everything worthwhile.

There are plenty of things in this world that we just have to trudge and carry on, no matter how seemingly remote is the possibility. Like how Ang Lee languished in years of obscurity before finally being recognised for his work.  I don’t seek recognition explicitly, though I admit sometimes I still have an ego like any human, but if I could somehow persuade more people to believe in their own inner potential to impact this world positively, I would really die a very happy person.

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