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favorite posts the truth about life

Things You’re Allowed to Do, That I Would Recommend

Sell everything you own and buy a one-way ticket
Arrive and have a panic attack
Regard this as one of the highlights of your life

Buy a new book, even though you have a stack of unread books
Add the new book to the stack
Admire the stack from afar

Make spreadsheets to critically think through your big life decision
Go with your gut feeling
Eat some chocolate, you deserve it

Take a walking tour of the city. It’s fascinating, everything you didn’t know
Don’t take a walking tour of the city. Let it remain a mystery
Stay in your hotel. Browsing the internet in a new city is nice

Walk around with smeared eyeliner. It looked nice in the morning
Admire women who don’t wear makeup
Buy nude lipstick

Buy crypto
Panic sell when the market crashes
Laugh about the silly internet money (that you no longer have)

Become zero waste
Become vegan
Ask for a paper napkin with your grilled cheese. Hey, you’re only human

Resist taking a photo of the pretty sunset. Just be present
Nevermind, take a photo. Living in the moment is on your to-do list
Make the photo your wallpaper to remind your future self to live in the moment

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contemplation favorite posts the truth about life

Letter to My Younger Self

Dear Younger Self,

I’ve got good news and bad news.

The bad news

You’re not a special snowflake. You’re not especially pretty, or smart, or talented.

You could take this news in stride, but American society has convinced you that you need to be special, extraordinary. Yet the odds of being extraordinary are slim to none, and the dice have not rolled in your favor. Your ancestors’ gifts to you were merely to ensure survival: a chronic fear of everything, a preoccupation with what others think, and a nagging self-concern that buzzes around your thoughts like a trapped mosquito.

You’re also not brave. You prefer to live in your cozy mental assumptions than interact with the world to discover how it really is. 

For example: 

You decide (without asking) that Jordan from geometry class is not interested in going to a movie with you. In your beauty magazine logic, you decide that he would ask you out, if only you were thinner. So you dedicate most of your waking hours to achieving a thigh gap, never questioning whether this is a worthwhile goal. Your thighs eventually stand apart. He doesn’t ask you out.

But your biggest issue is not that you think the best way to woo someone is through silent starvation. No, here’s the rub: the universe is chaos. It’s immune to your affirmations. It will not rearrange itself to suit your fancy.

Your hard-won thigh gap gives way to entropy.

The good news

It turns out the beauty magazines were mistaken. Millions of years of evolution have ensured some opposite-sex members of your species will be attracted to your fleshy, fertile-looking body. Unlike your female ancestors, your poor judgment about who to mate with won’t haunt you. Your fear of everything, which ensured your ancestors lived to reproduce, now ensures you remember to take your birth control. First your ancestors were freed from hunting and gathering and then farming; now you’ve been freed from church and children.

So while you may not be extraordinary, this world and the time you were born into are. While your ancestors didn’t gift you with remarkable wit or beauty, they did suffer through disease, birth, genocide, poverty, and war to grant you a body so that you may stand, now, on this spinning rock.

Maybe you shouldn’t be so concerned about your thighs.

It turns out society is mistaken, too. You don’t need to be extraordinary. You don’t need to be lauded by thousands to feel loved; you’ll be content with a handful of genuine friendships. Nor do you need fame or fortune to feel fulfilled; just helping one other person will suffice. 

The world is far bigger and weirder than what you’ve seen on TV. Those ideas of better and worse are all made up, and you can author your own. For example: that the pinnacle of beauty is luscious, ample thighs.

And while you may ultimately be average, in the 21st century that entails being extraordinary. You can summon any piece of humanity’s knowledge by typing the right words into a search box. You can sit in a big metal bird and chomp bubblegum while flying over mountain ranges that armies once died trying to pass. There’s so much for you to see and learn and do. 

So please, don’t waste your time worrying that you don’t measure up to some societal ideal. Be glad for the lucky shoes you stand in. Walk those shoes out past your fears, past your self-concern, and right out the front door.

The world awaits, and you’re every bit good enough for it. 

Love,
Alex

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?

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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:

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favorite posts

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.

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favorite posts ideas motion design

In GIFs: Centralized, Decentralized, and Distributed Systems