I came across your blog while reading Dan Shipper's blog which I came across while reading Lifehacker which I probably found during some random web crawl. I usually don't write to bloggers/people-online much but you seem pretty cool about receiving and answering mail so here goes. I am not sure where your usual readership comes from but I am writing to you from Sri Lanka, which would most likely in the minority when it comes to your readership. :)
Your interests seem pretty varied on your blog, so I was wondering, how do you choose your particular 'line' or career, or where you ultimately want to head. Ideally one would want to specialize in something, but when your interests are varied, how do you figure out what you want to be. In various times of my life I have been interested in the pure sciences (Physics, Chemistry kind of stuff), computer science, I dabble in some photoshopping even though I am not great at it, I like music even though I am not great with an instrument, I like the idea of programming even though the thought of becoming good at it is too daunting, I like writing, even worked a bit on international relations, but haven't come across something I can devote myself to. It would be nice to find my calling before I grow old and die.
How would you choose where you want to go with your life if you just like everything?
Hey, thanks for dropping a line Andre. Dan Shipper is an excellent guy, so I'm thrilled you came here via his blog.
Sri Lanka, huh? I've been meaning to visit at some point... with the final defeat of the Tamil Tigers, I think Sri Lanka stands to grow a lot and enter in a sort of renaissance. From what I've heard and seen, it looks like there could be some serious booms in Sri Lanka in the coming years. I'd like to check it out firsthand sometime soon.
As a tangential note, I think this Wikipedia page provides fascinating insights on international relations 2009:
There were three basic positions expressed - either emphasizing human rights (Canada, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland), congratulating Sri Lanka's government (Russia, Vietnam, Iran, Pakistan), or tactfully saying nothing (Singapore, Japan).
I won't go into analysis here, it's very tangential to your email. But is fascinating - after a 26-year war ends with the insurgent side losing, do you congratulate the winners or express how important it is to protect the losing side?
Anyways, I think Sri Lanka is in line for a renaissance coming up, so congratulations on the successful conclusion of the war.
Your question -
"How would you choose where you want to go with your life if you just like everything?
I think about that a lot. It's taken me a while of working through the question many times.
The general conclusion I'm coming to is this - you want to be achieving things in a way that helps build your future ability regardless of what path you eventually end up on.
See, right now you don't know what path you're going end up on. Yeah, same here. I've spent time with the hard sciences, law, business, entrepreneurship, writing, art... I have an interest in governance and military science and organization and... well, y'know, all the stuff I'm interested in. I've been learning a lot about finance and marketing lately. (Recommended: "Stick" by Chip and Dan Heath and "The Intelligent Investor" by Ben Graham)
I wanted to get some clarity on this myself, so I went to a cafe with notebook, pen, and coffee, and did some brainstorming. I came up with this list, as I wrote up in "The Building Blocks of an Empire" -
Family – Friends – Counsel – Network
If conflict started today, who would be on my side?
People knowing of me.
Accomplish & Credential:
Credentials – Elevator pitch – Prestige – Relations – Memberships with Factions
Written works – Events – Art – Science – Accomplishments – Governance – History-changing
Portfolio – Blurbs/testimonials – Reviews – Soundbites
Skills – Habits – Routine – Regular environment – Knowledge – Intek
Diet – Sleep – Time spent (quality) – Emotion/mood – Beliefs – Goals
Purpose – Loyalties – Muscles/body composition – Biochemistry
Rituals and customs – Celebrations – Things like Marshall Salute
Cash – Cashflow – Paper assets (stocks, bonds, etc)
Grants of rights and privileges (passport, limited liability, etc)
Tools – computers, clothing, software, other technology
Real estate for use (rented or owned)
Real estate for investment (rental or business)
Processes – spreadsheets, workflows, etc.
Ownership stakes – Royalties – Digital assets
Commercial – Nonprofit – Governance – Security – Cultural
Guild – Private club – Other private organizations – Religious/spiritual
Banks – Universities – Investment groups – Small groups (regular dinner party, card games, etc)
See, I didn't put much analysis down in that post so I guess I didn't communicate the real significance of that list. That list answers the question, "I have a lot of interests, but don't know my calling. What do I do?"
The answer is, while you've got your current interest, also optimize some stuff on that list at the same time.
There's various exercises and thought processes and reading you can towards finding a main purpose in life, and we won't go over all those again. Rather, let's think about how we can build things that will be useful regardless of what path we end up on.
Cash, cashflow, assets are all valuable. Building your habits, self-discipline, knowledge, skills. Connecting with more people. Accomplishing and getting credentialed in things. Building relationships with or joining relevant organizations.
So, let's say you're really getting into international relations at some point, and you're doing lots of interesting learning and connecting with people across the world. Well, it might make sense for you to work to giving a relevant speech at some event. By doing that, you'll be forced to improve your skills and knowledge (on public speaking and the topic you choose), you'll gain a permanent credential (that you spoke there), you'll develop a bit of a relationship with the organization you speak at, you'll stand to meet people at that particular event, and so on.
I think this is key, I think this is the way. Whenever you're working in a field, you look to see how you can generalize it into valuable things across the board. If you were getting into making electronic music, then work hard to polish and release five or six remixes of popular songs you like. See, that's cool - after you release some things out into the world, that's something you've done forever.
Even if your interests move on from music, in the year 2031, you can say, "Yeah, back in 2011 I made some electronic remixes of popular 2011 songs. Oh yeah, they sound silly now, but it was fun back then." And it's cool.
And who knows, if one of your songs took off, you might have people in the music world reaching out to you to do some official remixes for pay, or work on a soundtrack, or something like that. But even if not, it's something tangible you've done that you can point out, it requires developing more focus and discipline (to polish and release things that are 90% done, which is the hardest part), and so on.
I'd recommend you lay the foundation of success regardless of which path you choose in the future. That's what I'm thinking more about these days - interests shift over the years, but completing interesting work and developing skills, discipline, resources, and meet interesting people in 2011 - that's cool and worthwhile, and that doesn't go away.
Sebastian and Andre, I really don't understand why people like you are having this complex of focusing on only one thing in life (or at least this is my impression about your wishes) , there is a tremendous need for interdisciplinary efforts! Mat, man, good point - music and programming! Andre, no Amazon in Sri Lanka? There are other very accessible things you might want to check out - SuperCollider. It's free and you can get it integrated in puredyne (free as well). This is just a hint. I am sure that in our days out there are a lot of free accessible things!
Also Musicmathics sounds interesting. I will need to find a round-about way to get at it. No Amazon here :)
Wow, it's like reading one of my emails to you, Sebastian.
Like you, I've been thinking about this a lot. My latest strategy is taken from Vlad Dolezal, at least partially, and his GROW technique, found at http://vladdolezal.com/blog/2010/grow-1-goals/. Worth a look.
I have one interest among my MANY interests that I seem to come back to over and over again. And many of my other interests require similar skills. As my background and current career are on the same track, I'm lining things up to keep my future varied yet pushing forward toward that one big interest. In fact, I'll be posting about it in my blog around the end of the week.
I try to combine my interests as much as possible. Where I have a minor interest, especially one that doesn't fit in with the others, I try to find a minor outlet for it, such as my blog for my minor interest in writing.
Andre, you say that you like music, but don't do much with an instrument. Try looking at music theory and integrating it into your programming. There's a book called Musimathics on Amazon that looks at the mathematics, physics, psychology, etc. of music as well as basic music theory.
To summarize, find the fundamental skills that affect multiple interests and work on those. That builds up your overall skill in multiple areas and may teach you ways to combine them. I'll think up some more stuff later and get back to you again.
I've got to be honest with you - I don't really like politics anyways. Governance, I like governance. I believe in good governance. But I don't believe in good politics - in fact, I don't even think there is such a thing as good politics. Politics can certainly be bad or stupid or destructive, but almost never good. Diplomacy can be good. Governance can be good. Politics can at best strive not to be bad, stupid, and destructive; it can't ever be good.
Yet, sometimes I'll see a discussion on some outpost of the internet that I visit, and then I might be tempted to jump in. From now on, new policy - no trying to persuade anyone of my politics. Instead, I'll look to share some historical background or references I've read or learned about that I find valuable, and let people mostly draw their own conclusions. Maybe I'll share my own views if I've already given a number of relevant examples.
But no more just trying to convince someone their politics are mistaken - it doesn't work, and besides, I don't like politics anyways. I should talk governance with people with historical examples, not politics. Governance is good. That's something I can get behind, good governance. Politics, not so much.
Recently, I spent 5 wonderful weeks volunteering in psychiatric hospitals, special needs homes and schools in beautiful Sri Lanka. There, the importance of talking about mental illness was instilled in me once more.
It would be easy to focus on the under-resourced and thus sometimes heart-breaking aspects of mental health in Sri Lanka – that there is only one psychiatrist per 120,000 people, the almost sole reliance on drug therapy and the institutionalisation that stands in the way of effective treatment. However, - such a rant is futile. Instead, I focus on what the UK can learn from them.
In stark contrast to the West, confidentiality has no real meaning or place in Sri Lanka, which I assume is a by-product of their collectivist culture. The (few, but crucial) mental health community clinics operate in front of waiting patients – each of whom will talk to the Doctor about their trials and progress. When thirty other placement students and I shadowed their psychiatrist, and thus observed appointments and even home visits - they were generally unphased. I believe that this is a positive thing – because, even in a country where stigma is so potent, mental health is being spoken about freely to some degree.
By no means am I saying that UK mental health practices should suddenly set up audiences to appointments or abandon confidentiality. The presence of cross-cultural differences has been drilled in to me since A-level Psychology, and to transcend them is not necessarily functional, desirable or even possible. We are an inherently individualistic culture and privacy is important to our sense of well-being.
However, I do believe that such practices can inspire more subtle and positive changes in the way that we - the general public- perceive and converse about mental health: To talk about it. To talk about it without hesitance, hushed tones or shame.