This is a post I've been wanting to write since I started this blog, so buckle your seatbelts, it's a doozy.
I'm a Software Engineer by trade. I never completed college(or even got close). In fact, I've never had a computer class in my life. I learned at a young age that traditional schooling just wasn't for me. I'd spend all of my free time teaching myself things at home, or outright skipping school and hitting the library for the day where I'd read things from art theory all the way to classical mechanics. At the time I wanted to be an artist. I found myself doodling in class constantly, and the tests I turned in were covered with my artwork. Some of my teachers loved that, but most didn't. I was indifferent.
At the time I had an account on an online art community: sheezyart.com. SArt was an awesome place at the time, and had a great, thriving community of amateur animators. Everyone was very supportive of each other, and it was a great environment to improve yourself. Though, sometime in 2008 things started to noticeably go downhill. The moderatorship became corrupt, and because it wasn't a commercial venture, the owner had no real incintive to fix things. In fact, he'd all but left the community entirely, letting the leftover moderators battle amongst themselves. Bugs accumulated in the codebase, really good users were banned for ludicrous reasons, and the community started to fall apart.
When I was fourteen I was enamored with two things: animation and building an animation community. I browsed the Newgrounds programming board constantly, sapping up as much good information as I could. I wanted to make the next newgrounds.com. Little did I know, this teenage fascination would turn out to be the most important thing I could've done with my life at that time.
Here's a simple game to play with friends on long car rides. (XOR when very drunk)
Pick a word. Any word. It doesn't matter what you say, in fact it's very important that you don't think about it too hard. The more spontaneous the word is, the better the game is going to be.
Now another player adds a word of their own to the chain. Same idea. Be spontaneous and just go with it.
Continue going around the circle with every player adding a word to the chain and let a story spontaneously form.
The first few games tend to start out extremely profanely. It's hilarious. Though as the games progress and profanity loses its novelty, players inevitably reach out for wittier, more creative words. Puns even show up!
I have a problem, the same problem that a lot of people with a 9-5 office job have. Every couple of hours I'll find an excuse to wind up on Hacker News or Reddit.
It's easy to justify. You'll even tell yourself that taking a break from your goals to catch up on the Ukraine Crisis is actually "productive" in some twisted way. You're taught in elementary school to keep up with current events... And school was right. You should be reasonably informed about what's going on in the world, but when it becomes an addiction to news consumption, it's a serious problem and it's going to negatively affect your productivity. Any addiction to consumption is going to negatively affect your productivity.
I've tried to stop this consumption cold turkey, but it's not realistic. I need to keep up with the news at least a bit, and so the addiction continues.
Something that I DON'T do very often is leave a comment on the articles I read. After I get that consumption high I'm usually satisfied. Leaving a helpful opinion or practicing my debating skills isn't necessary at this point, I'll quander to myself. And then I'll move on to the next article.
Lately I've implemented a rule for myself that seems to finally keep me from wasting hours idly browsing the news.
I've been lagging behind in my blogging lately, and a lot of other things. I think it's because I've been too easy on myself.
I've noticed that my productivity and happiness are inversely correlated with the number of physical comforts I allow myself. It's ironic, but the more comforts I allow, the less happy I am in the long-run.
When I get in doldrums like this it always starts slowly. First I decide that it'll be okay to have fast food just this one time. Next I decide that I'll be just fine skipping my daily Spanish tapes just this once.
Eventually I've tumbled way off course and I find I spend my evenings watching TV and my work-days slacking.
I think at least for me the only way to live completely productively and happy is to never let up on myself. I am a powerful human being and I deserve to act like one.
There's a place for both theory and practice in every endeavor, but the practice should always be emphasized over the theory.
The American public schooling system is based around learning theory directly rather than learning theory through practice. It's a travesty, but an understandable one. Theory requires a book and a dumb teacher to tell the students to read the book. Practice requires an engaging teacher that knows the art of the matter and can lead the students to wield their knowledge and change parts of the world. It's hard to find teachers like that.
Theory is sitting down and reading a book or memorizing vocab. It tries to teach you a task by giving metaphors for what it's like based on previous knowledge you have of the world. The problem is that you're learning a new task, not a previously known one. Metaphors are useful, but what you need is new experiences that show you exactly what you're working with.
Practice is the act of experiencing the art in its actual form. That could mean painting a portrait rather than reading about how to paint a portrait. It could also mean visiting Zimbabwe instead of reading about Zimbabwe.
I believe in jumping into the real experience the moment you have enough theoretical knowledge to answer this single question:
In March I set a goal for myself: Climb twelve mountains in twelve months, ending with a summit of Mt Rainier without a guide next year.
So I began.
It turns out there's a lot more to it than that. There's no way I'll be prepared to do Rainier by next year if I only do twelve mountains, as I've quickly learned. My goal of twelve mountains has quickly turned into a goal of 52 mountains in 52 weeks.
And so far I've kept up with it.
I was blessed and cursed with a mind that likes to live outside of systems. Most people are blessed and cursed with minds that like to live inside of systems.
If you're one of the majority, take the time to look at the big picture. Analyze all the possibilities, and especially understand your own motivations and reasons for doing things. Get a life strategy, and realize that it doesn't have to be exact, in fact, strategy is never exact, otherwise it would be tactics. Analyze what you do for a living, decide if it's what you want to be doing for a living, and if not then decide on what could be done to set yourself up to be in a more favorable position to reach your goals. Pick up a big-picture skill like computer programming or macro-ing in Starcraft. You'll thank yourself for it when you're able to take your details and use them to form theories that will help you predict and understand the world.
If you're one of those big-picture thinkers already, try to be a detail-oriented person for a while. Pick up a skill like painting or web design, and learn to look at things exactly as they are. Experience what it's like to become obsessed with getting pixel-perfection on the padding and margin of a web document. Use colors and space to beautify your work. Really soak in the details of the situation. You'll be amazed at what factors your big-picture mind is missing and how much better your theories could be if they accounted for a few unexpectedly important details.
I spent this morning re-branding my blog. I changed the name, color scheme, and slightly changed the focus. I've got a bunch of great blog post ideas for how Mathematical ideas can give you good, rigorous rules of thumb for how to live your life. They'll be coming soon!
In other news, today I want to espouse the benefits of doing interesting things. The logic is simple. If you must do something, and most things are equal, then do it in the most interesting and creative way you can, especially if the barrier to entry is a little harder. You'll reap weird rewards and gain rare perspectives that let you be the kind of person that sees what others don't, and thus can be a very valuable friend.
As a practical example, I must work out. I could've gone to the gym, but instead in 2008 I bought some nunchucks and started spinning them like a maniac every day. I completely lack martial discipline, and just do random tricks that I decided would look cool and give me a good workout, but I have fun.
I still go to the gym, because lifting is far superior for building muscle than nunchucking is, but when I want to limber up, nunchucking is pro.
A while back I was trying to find a quick hack to keep from spending too much time on media and social media. I made a simple rule for myself: if I read an article, I had to comment on it. It ultimately kept me from reading too many articles because I knew that the moment I started reading I'd have to leave a well-thought-out comment. I also noticed that my expressive writing ability improved. Tangentially, I also made a lot of highly voted Hacker News comments and reaped mad amounts of karma.
I'm trying something new now: Stay Focusd. It's a Google Chrome plugin that actively records the amount of time you've spent on sites that you want to avoid, and when the time passes a threshold, it blocks those sites from you. It might be radical, but I've already noticed that I spend far less time on Facebook and other media sites, and when I am on them, I actively read and try to squeeze as much value out of the information as I can in the shortest amount of time.
By entrusting a program to create an artificial limit on the time I spend reading media, I effectively increase the value of my media consumption. It's simple market economics.
As a side-perk, it's hilarious to interact with. When you try to cheat by changing your settings, StayFocusd berates you for a full minute before finally letting you change your settings.
I'll be moving to Seattle next Monday to explore a new city. I'm very excited.
When I board the plane, I'll be leaving pretty much all of my possessions behind. I'm practically starting all over.
I'll be bringing clothes, basic hygiene products, and MAYBE a laptop if my current place of employment allows me one, otherwise I'll be off the grid for a while.
This is a pretty big move for me. When I first moved to NC from Florida I was 18 and only had my license for 3 months, so that was a pretty big move at the time, but I'm grateful that I had a place to stay when I got here, and didn't have to worry about rent or really any expenses to speak of. It was a pretty sweet deal, and I had a lot of people looking out for me.
This time around I won't have a safety net. I'll be going in with little cash, and only the good will of a few Washington friends and acquaintances to keep me afloat until the first paycheck rolls in.