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Monday, December 09, 2002

Life is Now. What are you waiting for?

From a thread in pjammer's LiveJournal:

-- (him quoting me and replying) --

As long as you never lose your self-doubt, never start assuming that what you're doing is the right thing just because you're doing it, then aren't you always going to do your best, choose the most fulfilling thing? Maybe in hindsight you might realize something else would have been better, but that's not realistic -- it would only have been better if you'd known enough to choose it!

Not everybody is so purposeful at those critical moments in our lives.

Many of my peers made their vocational/academic choices not so much because they were appropriate for their talent and temperment - but from social/family pressure, circumstance, or just immaturity. Sure, you can glibly say "do what you really want, not what is easy or fashionable" - but it's just not the case for a lot of people. Immigrant family culture places tremendous emphasis on prestige ... I can rattle off names of a dozen friends in medical school who were there largely to appease their parents. I chose banking because it sounded sexy and glamourous, not because I had a deep and fulfilling love for financial spreadsheets.

We are social animals; peer approval, like it or not, is a reality for most. I know you are an outlier in this regard (being completely serious here - perhaps this is a primary reason you find it difficult to relate to many people?) but purposefulness is a very elusive thing for almost every twentysomething I know.

-- (my reply) --

perhaps this is a primary reason you find it difficult to relate to many people?) but purposefulness is a very elusive thing for almost every twentysomething I know.


I was very lucky in having something very exceptional in my parents: I have no recollection whatsoever of feeling that either of them ever had any particular expectations of me, positive or negative. It was simply taken for granted, between all of us, that its up to everyone to decide their own life. If either of my parents ever wanted me to grow up to be any particular thing, I have no idea what it was. (And since I moved around a lot, I had no peers, so no pressure from that direction. And no religion, either.)

In short, I never even had guidance, let alone pressure, so this question of what to do with my life--this has always been before me, open, relevant, and unconstrained.

It's such an important question--perhaps the most important question--that for someone to be uncomfortable/unfamiliar/unmasterful with it is very hard for me to.. imagine.. stomach.. live with... relate to. Here we have this one life to spend how we wish, and it's like: oh, we'll worry about how to spend it after we've spent it. It makes my head spin. Here before me is the source of life's lost potential, in a matter of simple carelessness (to me, it seems). How can this question not be the very root of all your lives? No, I will never relate.

But this thread has been very elucidating for me. Thanks.

That snippet makes a nice intro into the theme that's been occupying my last couple of weeks: I'm again considering selling my house and traveling for a time, perhaps moving to New Zealand for a while to see how I like it as a place to live. On paper, it is looking like an excellent candidate for a permanent residence, having essentially all the things I care about and with a very friendly cost of living. Fundamentally, it is very green and healthy--the food is preported to be fantastic simply because the basic ingredients are so healthy and vibrant (right up until the moment they are ruthlessly picked or slaughtered for our culinary enjoyment). This is in stark contrast to California, where meats and produce are precariously raised in a man-watered desert. Green is brown here, and so it everything we eat. My friends from NZ tell me they feel marginally ill when they visit here, and they think it's mostly the food. There's little to no smog or polution there. Land is cheap, even 25 minutes from downtown Auckland--a city comparable in many ways to San Francisco. Prostitution is legal. Not that I plan to sell my body or anything, but it just sits well with my Libertarian leanings. I've already located half a dozen great sounding ethnic restaurants that I want to try when I get there, and it looks like I'll have a hard time spending more than $8 for a dinner--including tip and tax, because you don't tip there and tax is wrapped into the price. I'm told the service is much more genuinely friendly there, lacking the tip-tension we often have here. "Homestays" appear plentiful and cheap--daily rates for rooms in people's homes, including breakfast and utilities, are comparable to long-term rents here, and half the cost of our cheapest motels. With a little planning, as long as I don't leave a residence empty here, the trip will pay for itself in reduced living expenses. And one great thing about New Zealand: it's really hard to sue there. They generally consider people to be responsible for their own decisions, so if you go whitewater rafting and die, that's your fault, not the rafting company's (this was an actual recent example; it was, of course, Americans who tried to sue! It didn't even get into court, from what I gather).

But in the near term, perhaps I'll move to Tahoe/Nevada. Or who knows. Maybe I'll trek around Europe some more. Thailand? Japan? Anybody know anyone in Japan who would like to show a white boy around? I get the impression that is one place that is much better to visit if you have connections.

'Course, this is all contingent on many practicalities, but all things start as daydreams...

Anyway, this tangentially reminds me of something else. Since Kalistrya*'s visit, I've added bok-choy to my master shopping list, and have probably picked up numerous other ideas, thoughts, and habits from her as well. I'm rather a sponge that way--readily adopting anything I like and making it mine. What struck me as amusing about this, though, is that when I pick up stuff like this, people just attribute it to my weirdness or whatever, but when people pick up things (the same things!) from me, it gets attributed to my "influence". What's with that? Am I the only one around here with an identity? I think not. Perhaps I'm the only one who's secure enough in my identity to have no qualms about picking up habits and ideas from other people. Maybe I've become a clearinghouse for these things, and so people tend to pick up more from me than from someone random, and this in turn raises flags that they're not thinking for themselves because why else would they be picking up so many things from one person?

And it occurs to me many of the people I choose to hang out with are similar to me this way (Andrew*, Kalistrya*, Amanda*, and others), all attributed at various times by various people of being "influential". And yet, what is the fire behind this influence? Are we great mesmerizers, as some would credit us with (or accuse us of)? Well, I guess I can't speak for anyone else, but when I pick things up from these people, it's simply because they have good reason for what they think or do. They are great resources because they are great sponges (and great inventors and solvers too)--because they apply their own minds to everything they encounter, and adopt the things that make sense.

It seems so simple and obvious, I just feel sorry for those who have issues with it. But please, go have issues with it somewhere else--chastising me/us for my/our "influence" is, well, just small minded. Ironically, if you weren't so afraid of adopting things, you would have such influence too! [Note "you" here is a generic and nebulous audience who has expressed issue with this in the past; nothing recent. I was just reminded of the irony of it when I noticed how easily I pick things up from others.]


On other random topics, a snippet from a recent email:

I guess one of my few and fortunate social skills I've had my whole life is a keen sense of who I can trust. It is, ironically, a side effect of my general cynicism that I can trust people. Strange, isn't it? Those who would hand out trust more easily learn that those they trust can betray them; whereas those who hand out their trust sparingly learn that those they trust are truly trustworthy.


I met someone in-person recently who had only known me online (and for a short time). She commented something to the effect that she was surprised I was so nice/easy to talk to--apparently online I present as "difficult". Hmph.


Regarding the recent trends in this country: Orwell was an optimist.


And speaking of pessimism, my friend Rich recently posted a great little mind-bender which is worth solving if you can (presented here in my words):

After waiting in line at the grocery, you feel like you've waited longer than anyone else in the store. So you start watching other people to see how long each of them has to wait in line. (For simplification, assume that you are picking people at random and they go to a random line, so the wait time of each person is randomly drawn from the same memoryless distribution.) Question: how many people, on average, will you have to watch before you find one who has to wait in line longer than you did?

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com