It's a lot better to leave college asking more questions than knowing more stuff.
|Mar 15||Public post|| 1|
“A man must dream a long time in order to act with grandeur, and dreaming is nursed in darkness.”
— Jean Genet
Hi Beautiful People —
Some friends have been asking me about life advice. As we are all leaving college soon, this may be the appropriate time to ask about stuff like this.
I don't know what to do with my life.
I don't know if I'm doing the right thing.
I don't know what I'm passionate about.
As much as I'm flattered that they trust me with this question, I know I'm in no position to answer these questions or to give them magical advice. Just because I'm not them. I don't know about the magical moments that shower them with light. I don't know what keeps them up at 3 AM. I don't know where they’d wanna be in 5 years if they don’t have to think about money.
A good friend told me the more I tried to help by giving advice, the more anxious you make them feel. He said:
“Whenever someone asks you for advice, listen. Do not advise unless they explicitly ask for it. People already know the answers to those questions — give them the chance to express and externalize them.”
That itself is probably one of the most helpful advice I've heard in college. The best way to be helpful is to simply be present.
But some people genuinely want answers — something more tangible.
“I haven't found a mentor.”
“My major is useless.”
“What are the trends in technology right now? Which one should I pursue? ”
This is college. It’s supposed to be a treasure island pregnant with life-changing advice await to be unveiled. We've paid the price to enter the game, and we want the tangible reward that's been promised by everyone but no one at the same time.
These are sad things to hear, considering the privilege and the abundance of resources we’ve been given, yet we'd still choose to, over and over again, ignore the abundance around us in pursuit of scarcity. It’s wired in our nature, and we forgo sleep, our bodies, and meaningful relationships for the next cool thing that only a few get to experience. We say we want to feel fulfilled, but we often just want to be satiated.
Until one day, there's a spark, almost out of total randomness. It could be a book, a lecture, a snowstorm, a breakdown, a breakup. All of a sudden, we see that the race is only a prelude to the next, we can choose to run for eternity, but we decide not to but instead look outside the window and see the sun cast its golden rays down upon the clouds of billowing smoke, turning them bright red; blood orange.
It may take a bit of waiting and patience to experience this spark. Some of us may experience this sooner than others. Some may have experienced it many times. Some may deny the existence of this spark. Some may spend every second searching for this spark through external validations. Some fail to look internally, and some decide not to look at all.
A simple way to start looking is to start asking questions that examine intention and inspire actions.
I haven't found a mentor...but what kind of mentor do I need? What guidance am I looking for? What kind of answers will bring me clarity?
My major is useless...but why did I choose it in the first place? What is it that I'm doing right now that makes the knowledge useless? And what context would make it useful? How can I leverage the fact that I may be knowing something that others don't?
I'm afraid I'm being left behind by trends...but why do I want to follow these trends in the first place? Am I genuinely curious or am I following what others like? What am I genuinely interested in that also is trendy? Maybe I can try exploring those...
It's a lot better to leave college asking more questions than knowing more stuff. An elite degree makes people take you more seriously than you deserve, but an elite education makes you take yourself less seriously by showing you how little you know.
Because in the end, education is a life long process, and any education should empower us to understand a bit more about ourselves, judge a bit less about others, and take actions to create things.
It's timely that I came across an old essay by Paul Graham on the power of the marginal. He writes:
"The eminent are weighed down by their eminence. Eminence is like a suit: it impresses the wrong people, and it constrains the wearer."
I recommend reading the whole thing, and think about what’s the “eminence” that’s defining us as well as constraining us. Don’t get weigh down by what you have, take a deep breathe every morning and start anew.
Stay real & keep peddling,
On the topic of education, I’ve come to realize that a lot of my classes are simply a collection of content, an overpriced syllabus with a list of curated hyperlinks. I see the increasing number of hyperlinks on the syllabus quite encouraging. The information asymmetry that once defined elite education is largely reduced by the sole abundance of free high quality content on the web. I don’t know if the parents who throw millions at Harvard know about this.
Then I came across Newsera, an EdTech startup that has created a platform that packages different third-party content like primary-source documents, news articles and more to help teachers and students learn about a particular subject, more or less as a replacement for more traditional textbooks/syllabus.
Their business strategy is a simple freemium model: attracting users with a free product with high-quality content and delightful UX with hopes for a paid upgrade. The simplest business model is also the hardest the pull off. How Newsela survived an unforgiving EdTech industry lies in a well-designed product as much as a team that can convert users into paying customers. I’m a huge fan of this model as it incentivizes the venture to optimize for the quality of content and the user experience of the product.
The most interesting feature of their core product is the ability to quickly filter the “purpose"of readings and the topic of interest. We rarely think about why the teacher assigned the readings they assigned and the skills they tried to develop in us — maybe they’re arbitrary. The design helps the teachers think more deeply about the intentionality of their assignments.
Today, Newsela claims its platform is used in 90 percent of U.S. K-12 schools and has 20 million student users and 1.8 million teacher users. Sanchez declined to say how many of those users are paying customers. I’m excited to see where it’s heading.
In a future where most people have access to learning, identify the underdogs without brand signals (an Ivy League degree & job opportunities provided to them) is also an interesting challenge to tackle. There are so many startups in this space, almost too many, but the solutions are yet satisfying, and many seem to be missing the point…but that’s the topic of another time.
I learned about “the bug book” from Jim Collins. In one of his interviews, Collins shared how he found his “spark” (he called it the “sweet spot”) through observing himself as if he’s observing a bug for a science project. He reflected everyday in the bug book what Jim enjoyed doing, what Jim hated doing, what Jim excelled at doing — all in third person.
Through this process, he was able to create a diagram that I illustrated below. 👇🏻
In his own words:
The real secret, then, is when you find the intersection of those three circles, to where you’re spending your life doing stuff you’re passionate about and love to do, stuff that—not you’re good at, but you were genetically programmed for—when you do it, you say, “I know I was made to do this” and somebody pays you.
Collins believes that most of us suffer from the curse of competence. It’s an idea complementary to the danger of “eminence” introduced by Paul Graham. We are fulfilling our full potential when we are doing what we’re programmed to do, but those are the exact things that can limit us as external signals cloud our internal visor.
Freedom from wanting is a fundamental Buddhist concept.
Wanting more is a trend of our time, a reflection of the way we live, and yet it’s something that is rarely recognized as being a faddish.
When we start to use more as a way to quantify our values, we are falling prey to our “wanting mind.” More can be a great motivator, but it also makes us succumb to our own desire and anxiety; it creates an illusion of control in a world that is constantly changing. Being free means we are perfectly content with where we are — not keeping score, not afraid to lose, not trying to climb the wrong leaderboard.
I came across an excerpt on from Albert Wenger’s book “World After Capital”
Redirecting our reward mechanism does not mean giving up on all consumption. It simply re-establishes the lost difference between needs and wants: You need to eat; you may want to eat at a Michelin starred restaurant. You need to drink water; you may want to drink an expensive wine.
Psychological freedom in this instance means freeing yourself of assumptions you might have about how to go skiing. In this it helps of course to remind yourself that many of these assumptions are formed by companies that have a commercial interest in portraying skiing that way. If you can learn to re-frame skiing as an outdoor adventure, a chance to be in nature, it isn’t expensive at all and is very much accessible under a basic income. A similar logic holds for any number of other activities a person might both wish to pursue.
The book further discusses building new systems with the development of blockchains and crypto currencies, rethinking education and healthcare, and changing ourselves to become more optimistic towards change. Check them out below.
Excerpt 👉🏻Freedom from Wanting
Book 👉🏻World After Capital
A fun nugget to play with…generate your own art with Tinkersynth.
I spent some ridiculous amount of time tinkering with this. Have fun.
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After some discussions with friends, I’m making this newsletter a channel to discover and connect creators and thinkers who are navigating the future.
Reply & let me know if you or anyone you know want to be a part of this. I’ll reach out for a short interview.
Things I’d love to know.
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