a journal entry I wrote on NYE1
A few minutes ago, as I sat at my desk scribbling away on the tablet in front of me, I heard the countdown from a group of people somewhere in the vicinity: “five, four, three, two, one. Happy new year!” Fireworks cracked and rumble in the distance. They’re still going now.
It feels a little surreal. It’s 2021 now, 1/1/21. Arbitrary marker, but meaning is often formed from the arbitrary. I think the feeling is the bittersweet one of time irreversibly passing, one that I remember well from CSS end-of-years and Andover finals and breaks.2 For me, away from campus and then away from any school structure at all, time had become a sort of continuum. There weren’t breaks or demarcated periods of time to feel the irreversible passage of. Months and seasons seemed seamless and unremarkable, convenient measurement tools and not much more.
I guess I thought the new year would be no different. I planned to sleep at 11:30, after an hour playing cards with my family. I’m behind on work and not feeling too good about myself; just want to sleep, wake up tomorrow, and resume the grind.
Now that I’m writing this entry, though, I’m thinking about last year. Did I write any new year reflection them? It was UM app season, and college app season. I remember winter was “chaotic” and truly transformative for me, though in the chaos that followed I never got around to writing a full reflection piece. My writing really is sporadic rather than disciplined in any way.
We remember the beginnings and ends of things best. The meaning I was compelled by to write in this moment belongs to this moment, and not the year 2020, or its events. Yet, by bookending 2020, it becomes a disproportionately important part of it. That’s nothing exceptional, just the strange way our brains construct memory and meaning, I suppose. Its like some senior friends’ discussion of missing senior spring: that bittersweet bliss often had a disproportionate impact on graduates’ perceptions of Andover, and I would even go so far as to say, of themselves. Maybe I would have gone to Wesleyan if I had stayed at Andover during the spring.
Finding myself tied up by potential past choices, I’m reminded of a micro-framework I came up with at one point: success breeds options. Failure breeds closed doors and narrow paths back to stability. Having Wesleyan as a college choice, in retrospect, was a significant success. Yet I didn’t view it as such in the moment. To be honest, if I went back now, I’m not entirely sure that I would choose differently. But it seems, now, that I’m solidly on a path of failure. Sure, I have options with startups and projects to work on, but they’re not options for stability. They’re stepping stones on which to propel myself towards meaning and meaningful opportunity. I don’t care about tech at the end of the day, I feel like is a truth that emerges with thy deepest reflection. Its the path my dad pushed me on. I’m much more genuinely fulfilled by the humanities: the critical, the artistic, what have you. I would likely here been mine fulfilled at Wesleyan than GaTech.
Yet, I likely would not have fully faced this fact had I not done so deeply into tech, gone into software and entrepreneurship. Its a world that’s endlessly cool, but it’s like picking a partner who’s familiar to me (i.e. similar to parents) rather than who is truly healthy or will spur my growth and fulfillment.
With UChicago shut out, though, its very unclear what my path back to humanities / liberal arts academia would look like. Brown? It’s a long, long shot that I have no expectation of getting. Maybe some other LACs, too. Pomona? Williams? Whatever is still open in a few days.
I’ll go now to meta-reflection. I found out just yesterday from Michael and Adara that there’s something called a dopamine detox that is very similar to my reflective journal entries. Dopamine detoxes are more intentional and comprehensive, I think: no laptop, tech, even food for a day. Just meditate, write, and reflect. like my journal, though, they’re done when the need arises. Taking a full day for this sounds amazing, and also a little infeasible, but maybe I just need to reframe: maybe I should organize the rest of my life to make this full-day detoxing feasible, because again, it sounds so good.
I think there’s a larger desire there too. The desire to just chill and eliminate unnecessary anxiety from my life. Why do I stress myself out so much? why do I feel bad about my current situation so much? I don’t think it even leads to growth or opportunity; that comes off you’re performing and intentional, not emotionally burdened. In my case, for example: how amazing would it be to have a YC software engineering Job, or hop from job to job, making decent money, meeting cool people, building my own skills, etc.? Focus on my own content and enjoyment. Live for my own fulfillment rather than someone else’s goals. Bringing back Mark Marson’s four stages of life: this would be moving from mimicry to self-discovery for the first time.
Maybe that thought is naïve and I’m still largely in a state of mimicry. But the possibility of breaking away feels a lot more real now, after getting my first few paychecks and job offers, than it did a year-or even a few months before. My mom has not yet let me go to really grow up. Maybe I’ll look back and regret growing up too soon if I do let go, because it is not something that is easy, or perhaps possible, to get back.
We endlessly romanticize youth and childhood. Why is that? Maybe for the sense of unconditional belonging, of not questioning your existence and pain in the world. For all our ignorance and helplessness, when we are children we lack a deep desire that sets in later: the desire for meaning and purpose. Desire is the root of all suffering, as Buddhism puts it; or, in a Kierkegaardian light, perhaps it’s easier to never enter into despair in the first place, i.e. not have the ability to process despair, though Kierkegaard would counter that you don’t really exist then. Romanticization of childhood is purely a fantasy at the end of the day: none of us actually want to return to childhood, we just want the irreplicable peace of soul that was one characteristic of it.
How to finish this journal entry? There is more to say. There is always more to say. But I feel like I’ve he said what I need to. I’ve de-toxed, and I’m ready to rest and continue living my life.
New year resolutions are a traditional thing. The more intentionality minded might simply call them monthly, quarterly, or annual goals. I’ve not set such goals for myself more or less since college decisions came out, because I’ve not had a sense of long-term direction. I rarely have before, I suppose. I long to have some one day, but my approach, as I’ve been rapidly learning about myself and the world around me, has been to rapidly iterate. Work, connect, reflect. If it feels good, keep doing it. If it doesn’t, then ditch it. Done right, you’ll constantly be learning and making progress, even if you’re not doing what you enjoy. I have a lot of faith in this process, but perhaps more so in idealized conditions, i.e. without overbearing parents. There is a ton of value to people and environments who push you off-track — Nadeem pushing me in TKS, for example, or my Andover or Incandescent friends, But your ability to use these pushes constructively breaks down if they’re coming from someone who also has significant authority over you and does not allow you to exercise and train your own judgement. I think that’s how I ended up committing to Georgia Tech and on this gap year, for example, when I might otherwise be on a very different path right now.
So what lies ahead? Edyfi lies ahead. My revolutionary reading club lies ahead. My WPT research lies ahead. Sunsama lies ahead. Beyond that, the world of possibility that is one’s 20s, and beyond that the vastness and depth of life that I do not pretend to understand.
My life goal that I plugged into Terry Xu’s “Priorities” app in the spring was to find meaning and fulfillment in life. That’s also the best goal I have for the next quarter and the next year, as far as I know. There will be specific sub goals, of course, and the hope is for these sub goals to get more and more meaningful and asymptotically approach that by goal of meaning and fulfillment. for now, then, I can only chase the small goals, and look for progressively bigger and better small goals.
I’ll end, as Michael ends his dopamine detoxes, with notes of gratitude. I’m writing this reflection from a place of great privilege and security. I haven’t really suffered any major harm from the pandemic. My resources, connections, and opportunities hare been plentiful, and continue to be. At a personal level, I have amazing friends from Andover and elsewhere, and an endlessly supportive and hardworking mother.
The future is uncertain, and I’ve experienced a lot of feeling lost and unsure about where I am and where I’m going. We can but trudge onwards, though. Happy new year. Here’s to life.
“I have diverged from the realm of this journal entry being a brilliant, beautiful sequence of revelation. It has become just another rough capsule of time, to be stored now and hopefully revisited later.” a quote from later in the entry ↩
“What has irreversibly passed by, lost to the currents of time, residing now only in memory? …the feeling of loss is strong, but it’s a melancholy, not grief: I do not know how to untangle it, and it is buried and intertwined with too many layers of excitement and thought to be focused on and let untangle on its own.” another quote from the entry ↩