I finished reading Snowball a few days ago, one of the quotes that struck me was,
“What factor did people feel was the most important in getting to where they’d gotten in life? And I said, ‘Focus,’ And Bill said the same thing.”
I thought to myself, if I am to narrow my focus in pursuing my goals, what defines the focus? What are the boundaries for that focus? I have an interest and curiousity in a wide variety of areas, but if I have to pick my battles, what would be the battles I want to pick?
I give myself a rough timeline of twenty years to try accomplish what I want. Between now and two decades later, I could get a whole lot done, or nothing much, if I were to be too careful or not careful enough. I don’t believe in making grand plans because in life nothing works out according to plan, at least for mine. I want to have some sort of an outline, a grounding basis, a mission or an objective, then live life organically according to that.
But this I know for sure, if I try to take on everything I care about, it will be goal suicide, because there is really a whole lot of issues I care about. Plenty of people take on one single cause for their entire lives to achieve very little visible progress (because a lot of invisible work needs to be done before visible progress can be made), much less multiple causes.
I don’t have an answer for myself yet, but at the very least I have started to think about it. Snowball tries to convey Buffett’s the concept of compounding interest, not really for money, but for whatever we choose to take on in life. We have to start rolling a small little ball right now, and hope that in years to come it will gather enough momentum.
What is my little snowball like?
Well, I could share my list here for a start, and see where I stand after some time. This list has not changed over the past few years actually:
I want people to understand more the co-relation between mental illnesses and creativity. I started to look at my mind very differently especially since I have read Lincoln’s Melancholy. Exploring the idea that having a melancholic mind may actually be a powerful driver for achieving our goals in life was key to my own transformation. I wonder if there could be an effective way of bringing this exploration to people who suffer from chronic mood disorders.
How do I make more people see and understand that everything is a double-edged sword. Once we understand this basic concept, it is tremendously self-empowering to come to a realization that it is our very own choice on how we choose to weld that sword.
Closely related to the above, I really want to do everything I can to make education more progressive. I am not sure how exactly I am going to go about doing it, but I know for sure that the education systems right now are considerably broken. I know of countless people whose natural curiosity and enthusiasm for learning as a child was gradually smothered as they went through school (at least in Asia), especially if you learn differently from other people. I have also known people who have had the blessing to go through either home-schooling or amazing progressive schools, and it was very much reflected in their personalities, confidence and polymathic knowledge.
I often wonder how different would I have been, if I have been encouraged to learn what I am truly interested in. Instead of spending years of my life going through the pain of feeling less because I have issues with memory retention. I do not learn by trying to memorize facts, instead I learn by either doing through trial and error, or simply organically sponging information I am curious about.
Also on my mind is providing access to quality education and giving everybody in this world a right to educate themselves. Yes, there are people in this world who are not allowed to educate themselves.
I would like for more weird people to embrace their weirdness. I have seen so many talented people drown their own gifts in sorrow and substances, because they have been made to feel less because they are just not like anyone else, which is the irony. If you are not like anyone else, it is a strength, not a weakness. Why do we marginalize people who stick out, perhaps like a sore thumb, but with careful nurturing, who knows who they could become?
I believe people who are not comfortable with their own individuality develop chronic illnesses, if not chronic mental illnesses, because it is just so self-destructive to not love yourself. So it self-perpetuates issue number 1 above. It could be triggered or exacerbated by issue number 2.
Looking at my little snowball
Now that I have tried to explicit write about it, it becomes clear to me that what I thought were disparate issues are basically one vicious cycle I am trying to break. I care about a lot more, like animal welfare, minority discrimination, equal rights for all, stopping war, which you could argue would benefit from the ripple effects of the above. If we bring more young ones up to critically think, understand their place and privilege in this world, accept and love themselves for who they are, wouldn’t we develop a more compassionate and empathetic humanity?
I have this untested thought that it is the most effective and efficient to effect change from where we are. I am writing and curating a collection on Medium titled, “Change the world with lines of code”. I haven’t fully thought about how to narrow my focus down to the root issues I care about, but right now I am relentless about nudging people, especially those of us who work in tech, that we have incredible power to make a difference:
“It used to be that in order to reach more people than you could talk to in a day, you had to be rich and famous and powerful, be a celebrity, a politician, a CEO, but that’s not true today. Now ordinary people have voice, not just those of us lucky to go to HBS, but anyone with access to Facebook, Twitter, a mobile phone. This is disrupting traditional power structures and leveling traditional hierarchy. Voice and power are shifting from institutions to individuals, from the historically powerful to the historically powerless, and all of this is happening so much faster than I could have imagined when I was sitting where you are today and Mark Zuckerberg was 11 years old.” – Sheryl Sandberg, HBS
Eventually I hope to distill these ideas into some comprehensible deck and speak about it. I think when we belong to the tech community, we already have more privilege and gifts than a lot of people in this world. Most of us have already won the Ovarian Lottery.
Could we do more to elevate the less privileged? Could we at least try to consider that the only selfish way to make a livable, sustainable world to live in, is to make everyone’s lives better?
I want more people to understand their individual power to be the change they want to see. Be it writing, engineering or design.