Categories
contemplation

The value of €10

Someone on the street asked me for change. He hadn’t had a coffee yet, he explained. As a fellow caffeine addict, I empathized. On a whim, I gave him a ten.

The man blinked in surprise. I could see him trying to figure out what to do.

“I’ll buy you a coffee,” he said.

I pointed out I already held a coffee in my hand.

“I’ll think of you,” he said.

The ten meant a lot to him. But it meant a lot to me to be able to help someone, at least for a morning. He got some food, I got some meaning. This sense of contribution would hold me over, at least for part of the day. And I knew no matter how my day turned out, this would be the most meaningful experience in it.

I thought about all the times I told people “sorry, no” when they asked for change. I could have been having this experience. How much would it cost me to have this experience every day?

Oh yeah, €3,650.

I thought what I could buy for €3,650 that would be better than having this experience 365 times.

I couldn’t think of anything.


I’m not sure when it became the norm to tell people no when they ask for money, walking past hungry people in our rush to make our nice lives perfect.

Don’t we have enough money to feed someone, at least for one morning?

Categories
contemplation the truth about life

Taking Slow Sips of the World

I’m only one person. I want to be of help to this world. I’m trying to be of help to this world. But I can’t do that if I’m paralyzed by taking in ever-more information.

After all, I’ve already got the plot: a runaway population of clothed apes have infested a rock spinning through space. These apes’ technical prowess has enabled them to conquer their environment. However they haven’t evolved skills of mass coordination and resource management, thus they are over-extracting their environment and causing the collapse of their ecosystem. Only some of these apes are aware that their ecosystem will not support their survival for much longer; the others are too preoccupied with pursuing their primal drives of acquisition, status, and reproduction.

Do I need a constant feed of further information to make a contribution to the world? Or do I rather need to spend time—lots of time—in contemplation and toil to figure out how I can help these apes mitigate disaster?

I think about how often our ancestors would have access to news. In the time of newspapers and telegraphs, they might have received news one or two times per day. In the days of Genghis Khan, a European may have heard no news of the great empire sweeping the land until many years into the conquest. And in hunter gatherer times, you’d likely only get information when crossing another tribe.

Not that those historic times were superior—we all cherish the benefits of the information age. But I wonder if information is a bit like food: having an adequate supply is important, but have too much and the body becomes preoccupied filtering it and removing its excess.

I can emotionally and intellectually process probably one fact about the state of climate change in a week. To sit scrolling through a barrage of takes, stats, and memes is more than I can digest. And such scrolling turns me into a willing participant in our modern dystopia where we sit glued to our screens, numbly refreshing for minute-by-minute updates on the world’s worst events.

So I’ve decided to do more to keep my mental space mine. Less newsletters, less social media, less—gasp!—internet. I’m also striving to improve my information diet quality: less knee-jerk Twitter takes, more long-form content from those who have taken the time to think through and emotionally process the data. And instead of blindly accepting a feed of information, I’m doing more to think what information I actually need and then search it out.

In short, I strive to take thoughtful, slow sips of the world—not blindly guzzle from its fire hose.


Further resources:

Cal Newport’s advice on how to stay informed but active:

First, check one national and one local new source each morning. Then — and this is the important part — don’t check any other news for the rest of the day. Presumably, time sensitive updates that affect you directly will arrive by email, or phone, or text.

This will be really hard, especially given the way we’ve been trained by social media companies over the past decade to view our phone as a psychological pacifier.

Which brings me to the second part of the solution: distract yourself with value-driven action; lots of action. Serve your community, serve your kids, serve yourself (both body and mind), produce good work. Try to fit in a few moments of forced gratitude, just to keep those particular circuits active.

Brenna Quinlan on doing something, not everything:


Thanks to Joe Green for the header photo.

Categories
ideas

Some thoughts on giving

Many years ago I ran across Giving What We Can, a community of people who donate 10%+ of their income to effective charities. The idea resonated: if you say you care about various causes in the world, then you should put your money on it.

So I decided to take the pledge to give away at least 10% of my income each year for the duration of my life. I like envisioning receiving ten dollars and keeping nine of them, while shooting the tenth off to a cause I really care about. I also like being able to help the world while pursuing a career outside nonprofits, and I find it easier to donate to animal charities rather than face those horrors myself (thank you, brave ones!).

Around the same time I came across Giving What We Can, I ran into a “law of abundance” claim that giving away at least 10% of your income will actually attract more money to you. I know this is magical thinking, but I haven’t found this not to be the case, and I’ve grown fond of envisioning myself in some cycle of ever-growing giving and receiving.

In Buddhism, generosity is Dana, one of the most highly-regarded virtues. The practice of Dana is said to “purify and transform the mind of the giver,” and it’s thought that generosity developed through giving can lead to an experience of material wealth in this life or the next.

Ironically, one of my triggers to donate is when I’m feeling bad about my financial situation. I click a few buttons to give money away, and then I feel more grateful, present, and content with what I do have. Likewise, if I feel a nagging concern about plastics, I’ll use that as an opportunity to donate to an organization fighting for a plastic-freer world (shout-out to 5 Gyres!).

When I found it challenging to give 10% of my income, I did a series of interviews with Giving What We Can members to get inspired by some truly altruistic people. I noticed that these people excel at comparing what little additional comfort the money will grant them versus what the money can do for others.

I found it interesting to notice the variation in people’s giving preferences. Some are into eradicating disease or defending us from future AI overlords, while I think it’s most important to protect animals and save our environment.

Give where you want—I believe what’s most important is effectively using your money to create the world you want.

Further resources:

Categories
Uncategorized

In Gifs: Breathing Techniques

Try the 4-4-4-4 box breath to foster a calm alertness.

Try the slower 5-5-5-5 breath for a stronger calming effect.

Try the 4-7-8 breath to reduce anxiety and get to sleep faster.

Categories
ideas motion design

In GIFs: Centralized, Decentralized, and Distributed Systems

Categories
contemplation the truth about life

10 Questions for Finding Your Calling

Some quickly find their calling—they find a career that engages, satisfies, and pays them. But for many of us, it’s not that simple. We end up drifting about, meandering down one path and then another, always wondering what it is we’re really meant to do.

After many years of having only a vague sense of career direction (and often grateful just to make ends meet), I pondered a series of questions and finally reached clarity about what I want to do.

But before sharing the questions I used, I want to point out that it’s perfectly fine—and often part of the process—to not be clear on what you want to do in life. Life is not a straight line from A to B, and sometimes you need to go through several transformations to gain the necessary context to find your calling.

During times when you’re unclear, the following advice may be helpful:

  1. Follow your curiosity, as Elizabeth Gilbert says. I’ve had several life junctions where I felt an overwhelming desire to study something, spend time with someone, change cities, or travel. Those whims often didn’t feel logical at the time, but pursuing them led to opportunities and insights that brought me further down my path.
  2. Put in the hard work to gain valuable skills. Cal Newport argues that ‘follow your passion’ is bad advice, and advises instead to “put in the hard work to master something rare and valuable, then deploy this leverage to steer your working life in directions that resonate.” His book So Good They Can’t Ignore You and the tl;dr blog post version are highly recommended.

Without further ado, here are the questions for finding your life’s calling:


1. If I died today, what would I be sad that I didn’t do?

Imagine you were to die tonight in your sleep. What are you most sad you didn’t get to do?

Another way to approach this: “If I were to die happy and satisfied, how would I have lived?”

2. What did I like doing when I was young?

Reflect on your childhood and see if any memories call to you.

I have a vivid memory of coating an elementary school worksheet in stripes of glitter crayon. I was worried that this act would be admonished, but I couldn’t resist making the drab worksheet more attractive. It turns out that this root desire to make ideas and information more alluring is my calling!

3. If I had all the money I needed, what would I do?

Often our sense of career is deeply intertwined with the obligation to make money. While of course our career must sustain us, this question can help us see past any money issues that may be skewing our perception.

4. What brings me satisfaction?

This question helps calibrate the previous one. If in the last question you pictured yourself laying in a pool sipping champagne, you’re unlikely to envision the same in this one.

Related questions: “What do I feel proud of?” or “What would I feel proud of?”

5. What do I do where I lose track of time?

Losing track of time lost in an activity happens when you are in a “flow state.” This state is often deeply satisfying and brings about our best work, so your answer to this question may indicate an activity to double-down on in your professional career.

6. Where do I gain energy, and where do I lose it?

Do you gain energy from working with people or working alone, or in a particular combination? What sort of challenges inspire and motivate you, and which drain your batteries? This question is posed to help you find a sustainable work situation.

7. Whose life am I jealous of?

I found this question after becoming green with envy upon hearing Tim Ferriss’s writing schedule. His schedule was something like waking up, taking a swim, doing writing, eating the same daily lunch, reviewing writing, and then meeting up for friends in the evening. I wanted that life so much—me against a blank canvas, every day—that I realized I should orient my career around that sort of “maker” schedule.

Related question: “What does a perfect Saturday look like?”

8. What am I good at?

Alternative questions: “What do friends ask me to do for them that I find easy?” and “What am I bad at?”

9. What are my “factions,” and what do they want?

This question is a way of finding a calling that encompasses all the different aspects of you.

I have three factions—aka inner drives—that are often in conflict with each other:
The caring faction that wants to save the world.
The artistic faction that wants to excel at creative expression.
The fearful faction that wants to be secure.

If I spend too much energy tending to any one or two factions, the omitted factions will start rebelling and demanding all of my energy.

Many times I’ve tried to go a path that only satisfies one of the three (e.g., a high-paying job for the fearful faction, or renouncing financial security to live a life of service), but inevitably I become unhappy because I haven’t fulfilled all of my drives.

10. What would I do if I could start over?

You might resist your calling because there’s a sizable gap between where you are now and where you would need to be to pursue that calling. Perhaps that’s a gap in skillset, knowledge, degree, network, funding, or identity. This question is a way to get around any resistance of the “but I don’t have X so…” or “but it’s too late to…” variety.


You may find as I did that the answers to these questions may not come all at once, but after many months of reflection.

What questions and processes have you found helpful? Please comment below!