Category Archives: Personal

What makes Thanksgiving different

In a recent conversation about holidays, I shared that I look forward to Thanksgiving in particular because of the fact that it’s different than other holidays. While most other holidays are celebratory in nature, Thanksgiving is about expressing gratitude for, rather than celebrating, what we have.

I’m glad it’s that time of year again.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Anticipation

I remember when I was a child, I would wake up very excited the day when my favorite soccer club was due to play. I would wait in anticipation of the game throughout the day, and the feeling of anticipation was often as great, if not greater, than the feeling of watching the game in the evening.

The same is true for many events that you anticipate, both personally and professionally. The feeling of anticipation is greater than the feeling you get when the event actually takes place.

The feeling of anticipation may have evolved in this way so that we don’t lose sight of our targets. Without it, we might otherwise stop pursuing some long term targets that actually provide us with an evolutionary edge.

Similarly to the feeling of anticipation of a target often being stronger than the feeling of actually experiencing the target, the journey is often more rewarding than the destination.

No recognition

A good way to decide what to do in life is to think about what you would do if you were to receive absolutely no recognition for doing it.

Because chances are that, given the extent of competition and the role of luck in determining outcomes, this is what is going to happen.

However, counterintuitively, if you do such a thing with no desire for recognition, you just might do it well enough to be recognized.

Abilities as repeated experiences

Sometimes you have the benefit of having the time to prepare for something in advance. When this is the case, if you put in the time, you can greatly increase your chances of reaching a positive outcome.

At other times, you don’t have time to prepare. Something happens to which you need to react on the spot.

When this is the case, if you have been faced with a similar situation before where your natural reaction was already tested to produce a positive or a negative outcome, this increases the chance that you engage in a current response that produces a positive outcome. This is the value of experience.

If you haven’t been faced with a similar situation before, that is if you don’t have contextual experience, the best you can do is to think about what’s happening as calmly as you can in whatever time is available. This is hard to do because, when faced with uncharted territory for which we haven’t had time to prepare, our natural reaction is to let our emotions guide our actions.

However, if you can remind yourself that what is now uncharted territory will soon become charted, that is, if you can see the new situation as an opportunity to gain experience rather than a reflection of your abilities, you can greatly improve your chance of reacting in a way that creates a positive outcome.

Most abilities are just repeated experiences.

Seizing the opportunity

Every situation that you create for yourself or encounter in life is either an opportunity or a threat.

You can either see the threat, by focusing on the downside in the event that things go wrong, or see the opportunity, by focusing on the doors that will open if things go right.

Once you see the opportunity, your subconscious, which is responsible for most of your outcomes in life, naturally works for you to seize it.

Meaning and nature

As humans, we seek meaning in our lives. Believing that we’re here for a reason keeps us engaged in life and motivated towards our goals.

As a result, we weave our lives into stories where events follow one another, driven by an overarching theme. This theme may be one of destiny, tragedy, comedy, or other.

But nature doesn’t care for our meaning. Nature is governed by the laws of the hard sciences and when these laws collide with the meaning that we have set for ourselves, it is the scientific laws that win.

In other words, nature doesn’t care how you feel.

When this happens, you revisit the story of your life and adjust it to once again achieve a coherent story. You recreate meaning in your life. This meaning may or may not be the same as the meaning which had existed prior to it colliding with nature.

You then go back to your life, believing in the new meaning that you have created for yourself.

While nature continues to not care.

Machine learning course

Four months ago, I wrote about the importance of learning the fundamentals of a subject through educational courses as a first step to creating or supporting the creation of applications of that subject.

In that post, I shared that, in order to better understand and potentially support the creation of cryptocurrency applications, I recently completed a Coursera course offered by Princeton University on Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies. The course gave me a better understanding of cryptocurrencies than I’ve been able to gather through spending much more time reading secondary accounts of the subject across the internet.

After completing the course on cryptocurrencies, I began a course offered by Stanford University on Machine Learning. I’ve only completed the first week of the course so far. However, I feel like I’m learning even more than in the cryptocurrency course. This is perhaps because I enjoy the material more, perhaps because I more clearly see its applications, perhaps because the course content is better structured, or, most likely, it’s due to a combination of these factors.

I strongly recommend this approach to learning about a new subject in general, and the specific courses offered on Coursera in particular.

Your passion finds you

The more passionate you are about something, the more likely you are to do very well at it. However, how does passion emerge?

I used to think that we choose our passions. In other words, we think about what we want to do, and since we want to do it, the passion to do it emerges.

I’ve come to realize that this isn’t the case. Specifically, I no longer think that we choose our passions, but that our passions find us.

In other words, our passions are largely outside of our control. They emerge as a result of the combination of our genetics and our experiences that together shape who we are.

No matter how much we might want to be passionate about something else, usually because of seeing someone else do it, this isn’t possible. We are not that person, so their passion is not our passion. Their passion is the result of their genetics and the experiences that they’ve had in their lives, which are very likely different than ours.

To the extent that their genetics and experiences are similar, we might indeed have a similar passion. And there is more than one combination of genetics and experiences that produces the same passion. So we might have the same passion even if we have different genetics and experiences. However, given the range of possible passions, having the same passion as someone else is unlikely.

So rather than try to choose our passions based on what we think we want, or should want, we should be open to experiencing the different environments where our passions might find us.

This time period prior to finding your passion in life is a luxury. Because if you do, once you do, you will spend a lot of your time on it. And this leaves less time to experience other things.

But the good thing is that you won’t want to. You’ll leave the luxury of experiencing different things for the luxury of pursuing your passion.

Your passion will have found you.

Defensiveness

If you get defensive in a discussion, it’s because you think that what your counterpart is saying has at least some, and maybe a lot, of truth to it.

If you didn’t believe that the statement had any truth to it, you would either ignore it or laugh it off.

So you need to watch out for those statements that make you feel defensive. They are the same statements that you don’t want to be true, but at least to a certain extent are true.

The more defensive you get, the more truth the statement contains. And hence the more room for your personal growth if you are able to address the issue highlighted by the statement.

Effective speaking versus effective writing

When you write, your reader has the time to reflect on what they just read before reading further. Since your reader can set aside the time to process what you’ve written, you can write at length and in detail about the topic at hand.

When you speak, this isn’t the case. Discussions progress fast and the recipient of your communication doesn’t have the time to perform deep reflection on what was just said before you either jump on to a related point, or they jump in to fill in an awkward silence.

As a result, being an effective speaker requires a different approach than being an effective writer. Specifically, effective speaking requires speaking in small bite sizes that your recipient can absorb in real-time, at a level of detail that is sufficient to communicate the core of your message without losing your recipient’s attention in an attempt to understand each of the message’s underlying reasons.