The fast-paced transition from high school to college to growing up along with the unreal amount of universally accessible information that is available did two things for me. Firstly, it wired my brains to think of the present moment as a tool to fulfill future desires. Secondly, it fed my “monkey mind” — constantly giving it information to feed on, depriving it from being fine with doing nothing.
Back in high school, I had one simple desire or “end” or whatever you call it — to get into the best possible college I can. And I can bet I was far from being the only one who had this at the top of his/her priority list. In fact, seeing other kids have the same process didn’t act as a warning sign in my head but rather a “welcome sign” to proceed further down into the spiral. Don’t get me wrong, I feel it’s very important to be ambitious and care about your future educational plans and think about the “next big thing.” However, most people, including me, don’t really prioritize doing what they love to do — especially above working towards “the next big thing”. And even if they accidentally find something they love to do while working towards a future desire, they don’t do it for the sake of just doing it — but rather the internal dialogue is something like this — “Oh I love doing X. Yay this will probably help with college or school or impressing someone or a future project or a future job.” It’s like our minds are conditioned to try to figure out the future benefit of everything we do — even things we stumble upon that we love to do independent of any ulterior motive. [ If you’re an exception and have never indulged in this sort of thinking, I would love to know how]
Despite going down this spiral, some weird combination of luck and work got me into a college I was happy with. But little did I know that my mind was already conditioned to worry about the “next big thing”. College courses, GPA, social life, clubs, interviews, internships, networking, and future plans replaced the vacuum that was created for all but two seconds. Note this is the point where people want different things, and the next big thing might be different for you based on your path — could be an artistic debut or some professional degree or doing something radically new that no one has ever heard of. But like any human, I’m sure you might also have a development trajectory playing in your mind — constantly whispering and telling you to use your time now to focus on the “next big thing”. In my case, this voice made me obsess over college clubs, networking, and finding prestigious internships in areas where I felt I was interested in and could contribute meaningfully. However, at this point I was pretty aware of the workings of my “monkey mind” and decided to make a small hedge against it — try to slowly inculcate the habit of doing “something” without connecting it to a future desire— could be anything from coding a sudoku solver or building an advanced Lego or learning a technical skill or doing something artistic or even something as simple as cooking or reading.
The process was amazing. I never forgot the Python that I learned during my CS1110 Introduction course due to constantly using it to work on silly projects — from finding how to make a sudoku solver to building games for my entertainment [DISCLAIMER: Maybe I might have bragged about it a little to my friends who couldn’t be less bothered about it]. I read about behavioral economics and cryptocurrency just because I didn’t understand why humans would tip if they were economic agents or how asset transactions can take place online without any third-party overseeing it. I started researching with an Economics Professor at Cornell (@Professor Eswar Prasad) — just because I felt I learned so much about data science, statistical analysis, macroeconomic behavior, and it seemed to be an authentic symbiotic relationship:
(1) I thoroughly enjoyed learning the research process and carrying out quantitative analysis (basically using raw data to make sense of cool shit) for macroeconomic projects — creating an index for economic performance or researching about cryptocurrency and a lot of other cool stuff which I’d love to share in the future!
(2) I was actually “creating” and adding value and using skills that I had learnt throughout my academic education and through my own projects and was not just grinding for the sake of finishing an assignment or checking someone else’s work or just being the guy who helps administratively.
I’m not trying to be a substitute for a wise uncle, a boring philosopher, or even say I’m the first to think about this mentality or that you should follow it 100% of the time. Simple truth is I’m not trying to advocate for one thing or another at all. Everyone is going to do what they feel is right at any given point of time. And I’m sure most people are already aware of and try to break from this mentality from time to time. All I’m trying to say is doing something you love just for the sake of doing it has its own benefits. As Steve Jobs once said, “You can only join the dots looking backwards.” So why worry about trying to find the rationally right dots in the first place?