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For Ishan: Thank you for understanding, seeing, and challenging me :)
I return sheepishly
Of course it is the night before final exams, and *that* is when I feel the compulsion to write a blog post. My mind has a funny way of teasing my attention, but, it’s brought me writing to you at ungodly hours. It has been a month since I have written here. I suppose these are revealed preferences in action, telling me that keeping a consistent public-facing blog is not a sufficiently compelling priority. No matter! It means I have to develop myself in other areas before I integrate writing publicly as a coordinated habit. If you were invested and expecting a consistent update from me, I apologize, dear friend. I hope you will entertain what I have to say anyway! :-)
When some people tell me that they have never considered creating a plan or way to structure their goals and priorities for the next few years of their life, I feel deeply shocked (and maybe intrigued) by their faith in the universe. One of my core tendencies has been to plan my life according to the most updated model of my priorities, aesthetics, and set of goals. While I have faith and trust in my destiny at large and will revise upon new evidence, I am impatient and find myself in a very confused state if I have not developed a shorter-term structure to guide my attention.
In the past month, I reached a point where I did not feel as committed and dedicated to my life track — and part of it was because there was some ambiguity in knowing where I wanted it to go. At that point, it felt like I had no other option but to open a private GitHub repository and regather my distributed attention by writing down every thought that came to mind in the journal. The good, the confusion, the suspicion, the questions, and the reflections all came pouring into the repository. After off-loading my mind into the markdown document, I felt a rush of relief and calm as I spotted patterns in my reflections that led me to consider adjusting my priorities.
It turns out that I journal quite a bit. Between the journaling I do on Twitter, the discussions on my Facebook, and the ideas I share with my friends and family, I reflect and sense-make through different mediums. But, there was nothing more stabilizing than having a centralized index for an extension of my brain. Since then, I have developed the ritual of taking 15 minutes every night to upload my thoughts to my GitHub journal.
The largest return I have yielded since consistently journaling is maintaining my sense of integrity. Not quite referring to the traditional notion of honesty, but I think Joscha articulated it best. Integrity is more about maintaining self-earnestness and aligning my actions to serve my intentions, and, thereby, my aesthetic. Integrity is a state where your actions align with your intentions, your intentions match your identity, and your identity (aesthetic) is reflected in your actions. If I want to become the kind of person that I care about living up to, it’s critical that my actions contribute to materializing my aesthetic.
This would be, tangentially, the perfect opportunity to crack some jokes about the (AGI) alignment problem and comment about the vast majority of human behavior being misaligned with their ideal aesthetics, but I’ll save that for another time :p.
Designing your aesthetic is also determined by experimenting with your preferences until you understand them to be instrumental or discard them. Since coming to college four months ago, I have been experimenting with my preferences, and my aesthetic has been inevitably in less of a sturdy state. Luckily, I am told that an exploratory mode or the occasional identity crisis (*cough* identity adventure) is age-appt for an 18-year-old, ha!
Refining objective function
Creating my index has led me to discover that my convictions and preferences for my career/life trajectory were correct prior to starting college, and I need to continue to double down on my priors.
Some people do something like this when they are reflecting on their year. I think it’s worth reviewing aesthetics a few times a year to get a sense of where your life trajectory is headed and how you feel about it. I created a hefty private doc that outlines my aesthetic, my vision, and turned them into actionable goals. It reflects (with minimal ambiguity) what I am about, what I want to do, and how it will help me act with integrity:
What type of person do I want to become / what is my core objective function?
Through what interactions do I experience a large sense of reward?
What actions are necessary to execute to serve this identity?
What are things I want to do terminally—or just for the sake of them alone?
What’s the career track I want to focus on?
Why do these things matter?
What does failure look like?
What does success look like?
What does sub-optimal look like?
How am I spending my time, attention, and resources in each of those modes?
What are my failure modes? Why might I not reach my potential?
Nobody told me to do this per se, and neither was there any pre-defined framework or skeleton of questions for this exercise. These questions are built purely on the basis of my self-curiosity and intuition. It was what I felt was necessary to record because I sometimes find myself being more socially malleable and less intentional about my aesthetics. I made this document as a way for me to always find my way back to my essence. Of course, if you don’t feel like you have sufficient data on your preferences and the types of futures you may interface with, this becomes harder to do, though — but incomplete data is what most young people deal with. Despite this, I'm open to changing my mind and redirecting upon interfacing with new and convincing evidence. It is more likely that I will stand with my convictions and preferences, though.
As we are heading into the new year, I have been taking a large chunk of my time outside of my commitments to ask myself the right questions to leave little room for ambiguity and guide my intuition to align with the actions that will subsequently serve my aesthetics into the next year. Perhaps that is something worth elaborating on in the next letter I write to you. In the meantime, here are some personal things bouncing in my mind space:
Love this - from my brother, S:
I’ve now understood the value of tea and am now a tea person:
The moment I thanked the old bear and welcomed stronger aesthetics:
Gratitude to G and the rest of my Atlas friends for upholding systems of obj-level accountability:
Have the sweetest friends. Thankful to J for such a thoughtful gift - meet Zenith:
Autonomy feels grand. California has a special spot in my heart:
Christmas tree in our home. No filter, just pure magic:
Wish I could share more, but sadly at the end of my email limit. Until next time! :)
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