Review@30

More than a year since the last post.

It started feeling pretentious, and pointless, to write about things that I don’t fully understand. I reasoned that perhaps a better use of the time would be to read more instead of writing half-baked opinions. Anyways, there was a very strong desire to write this one.

Last month I turned 30. Completed 30 trips around a star while living on a planet. An achievement? Maybe. Not that I played any active part in achieving it. Still, something noteworthy, I suppose. Besides this, there is not much to write home about in terms of personal achievements. And no, that’s not a defeatist statement. This is not going to be a depressing rant. 😀

The objective of writing this post is to recap my major life experiences and document the learnings, if any, from them. Another aim is to have this account as a reference for the future. The intention is to revisit this, say 10 years down the line, to assess the relative personal growth. I feel that the memory can’t be relied upon for this and a written account is the better option.

Given the objectives, this is a personal exercise, in its entirety, and the irony of doing it in a public post is not lost on me. Still, allow me the indulgence. Some feedback from others, although not intended, would be very much appreciated.

That said, let’s begin.

So, after completing about 40% of the productive life, what have been my most important learnings?

First is the realization that time is the only resource in life that matters. Everything else is secondary. Meh, that’s obvious, you say? Alright, let me elaborate. We have a varying degree of control over almost everything in life, except time. The uni-directional nature of time makes it a resource beyond our control. The only reason we have to make choices in our life is that we have limited time. If we had an infinite amount of time, there would be no reasons to make choices or to opt for one experience over the other. In a world of infinite time, we could have an infinite number of experiences.

Being the only finite resource, optimizing our temporal experience should be the highest priority. Still, we often underestimate the value of time and overestimate the value of other things like money. So despite being an obvious message I thought it was essential to underline this.

Moving on.

The second key learning has been that everything you once thought mattered so much turns out to mean very little. Given enough time, the priorities of life change drastically. This needs to be emphasized because the issues of the present always get amplified by their proximity. And we usually fail to normalize our response to them.

During various phases of my life, I used to be worried about different things. School homework, board exams, the JEE, counter-strike missions, the GPA, jobs, office work. At each stage, the worries of the past seemed trivial and amusing. A sign of maturity, perhaps. But the finer point I am trying to make here is this – if you realize how futile your past worries were, then use this realization to measure up your responses to the present day problems. Don’t overreact.

Ok. Enough of the b-grade philosophy.

What follows is a retrospection; some short notes on things I believe are worth reviewing. This is primarily a dialogue with self rather than giving advice to others. Settle down, because it’s going to take a while. It might also get cringeworthy. You have been forewarned.

Life choices

According to Jim Carrey, there are two kinds of choices that we make in life. Choices that we make out of fear, and choices that we make out of love. I would add to this another kind: choices that we make out of convenience. Let me try to explain all the three.

There are times when we don’t necessarily want to do something, but also know the consequences of not doing it. If the fear of consequences outweighs our desire, then we make a decision out of fear. This could be the fear of failure. Fear of missing out on something. Or the fear of future uncertainty. The idea is that the fear of consequences compels you to make a choice. And I don’t think that this is bad per say. As long as the process of decision-making remains rational, these could be some of the best decisions we make in life.

Next are the kind of choices that we make because we love doing something. This is quite straightforward and demands no further explanation, I hope.

And then there are choices we make out of convenience. This is the laziest option. We choose the easiest alternative available at any given moment. We don’t bother with collecting enough information before making a decision. It’s not a choice we make out of fear of consequences, as we don’t even know what the consequences would be. Also, there are no strong feelings of like or dislike, so it’s not a choice made out of love. It’s essentially the art of just going with the flow. The art of being casual and relaxed. The art of not giving a fuck.

The choices we make out of love and out of convenience focus on the quality of our present experience. Whereas the choices we make out of fear are usually made keeping the future in mind. Each one of these has their own value proposition.

In hindsight, the choices I have made have been a decent mix of all the above categories. But predominantly, I have been a creature of convenience. More often than not, the choices I made, even on the matters of importance like education and career, were out of convenience. I decided to do something because it offered me a path of least resistance.

At some level, this might be because I haven’t been ambitious enough in my life. Or so I think. My habitual response to most situations in the life is to perform at a level just enough for survival. The urge to ‘settle’ with the easiest option has been the overriding feature of my life. I hope to change this in the future. Perhaps, I will start making more rational choices, even if they are to be made out of fear. Or perhaps, I will find a passion that will guide me to make choices out of love.

Family and Friends

The people around us continuously bring subtle, but profound, changes in our behavior. It is imperative for us to keep a good company. I think this quote summarizes my thinking on relationships very well:

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

I can hardly overstate the importance of family relationships. Although they are a given to us i.e. we don’t choose them, but they are perhaps the most important driving factor in our lives.

Friendships, on the other hand, are selected and cultivated consciously. And maintaining them requires significant effort from our side. I have been able to build some long lasting friendships, many now in their first and second decades. The main learning has been that time is a very good filter of good and bad friends. The relationships formed to secure short-term gains usually wither away with time. Only the good ones survive the test of time.

As I get older, my likes and dislikes are getting stronger. I now find it hard to make new friends. This makes it even more important to nurture the old friendships.

Education

Being educated is the single most important skill in life. Period. Here I use education in a very general sense of the word. The way I see it, education improves the quality of all the other life experiences, by making us more aware of them.

The information content of the universe is infinite, and education is the only tool that enables us to capture the maximum out of it. As living sentient creatures, if there was any purpose to our life, it would be this: get educated and explore the world in as many ways as possible.

From a personal standpoint, I believe that college education was perhaps the most important phase of my life. Not because of the quality of engineering education I received there; it was awful. Instead, the place gave me an exposure that, coming from a small town, I didn’t have earlier. It was like a sudden onslaught of new stimuli, in the company of people that helped me survive it. The frog coming out of its well. My years at college permanently changed the way I think. It taught me the proper way to approach new information – a skill that I find useful every other day in life.

Money

This is the second most useful resource to have. First is time, of course. Money can sometimes act as a proxy for time. It can speed up a lot of things in life. It’s always good to have more money as it drastically improves the quality of our material experiences.

My money management skills have been quite mediocre. I try not to worry too much about money issues and like to think of myself as not-a-miser. I have used money generously to bypass a lot of small hassles in life. This has, in most cases, made the life more pleasant.

Another good practice of mine has been not to prioritize money over relationships with friends and family. I highly recommend trying this approach. I am not advising you to become a philanthropist. Just try not to be an asshole to other people when dealing with money. Some of the most annoying people I have met in life do exactly this.

One other point about money. And this might be a personal preference. It’s about understanding the importance of being debt free. Taking out a loan might be an economically prudent choice in some cases, but personally, I feel good if there are no loan repayments hanging over my head. It feels kind of liberating.

Till now, I have always had enough money for a smooth sailing in life. Most of my choices have kept me debt free. However, having not planned much for the future, I can only hope that I don’t run into problems.

Religion

The most useless concept that is forced upon us very early in the life. A word of advice: if you realize the stupidity of religion then get rid of it as soon as possible. If the people around you are not comfortable with you being an atheist, then be a silent one. There is no point in being needlessly argumentative. Do not try to change others’ views on religion. Let them be. To each his own.

Travel

Traveling is the bestest.

I travel as much as possible within the personal constraints of time and money. For me, traveling has been the richest source of memories and experiences. The longevity of the memories acquired during the trips is, quite honestly, very surprising. My conclusion: these trips have been the best use cases for spending money. Exceptionally high return on investment.

In our life, we have a rather small window in time and are restricted to a planet in space. But despite these restrictions of space and time, the variety of natural beauty within our reach is immense. It’s only our obligation to observe this beauty. The feeling of awe and wonder that this inspires is hard to put into words. My trips to Ladakh and Alps have been nothing short of a philosophical experience. I hope to travel to many such places in future. Definitely one of the major life goals.

Movies and tv series

The general consensus towards watching movies and tv series is that they are an ancillary to our everyday life. Something to be done when we have ‘extra’ time. Often, just a fun activity.

Well, I disagree with this, completely. In my opinion, watching movies and tv series is the fastest and cheapest way to experience moments that are outside our everyday life. They are a unique source of visual (and emotional) experiences that we could never have otherwise. This alone makes them worthy of our time.

I have spent a fair share of my time watching movies, tv-series, some really great documentaries, and anime. A time well spent. No doubt about it. And I will continue to do so. The key is to separate the good stuff from the garbage, and there are already many resources available to do this. With time, after getting exposed to sufficient quality content, you also develop a personal filter of sorts. I have now started to understand the nuances, and am able to enjoy the subtle moments. Once you start identifying the hidden layers in a work, the watching experience gets even more rewarding.

Books

Hmmm. What can I say? Just that there are so many books and so little time to read them. I like to think of myself as a heavy reader. But I’m not. Even amongst my friends, I know many who read twice or thrice as many books as me. So the goal is to read more and more.

And with that, I can’t think of anything else that needs to be written about here. If I have missed anything, I will update the post as and when I remember.

There are two major things that I haven’t touched upon in this post. Music and sports. For many, these are a big part of their life. Not for me. For some reason, I have never been a music enthusiast. And never found sports interesting enough to invest time and energy. I can only hope that this changes in future. I am diligently trying to improve the situation in the area of music. Go Spotify. However, I am not too optimistic about sports. The lazy sloth in me is too strong. Also, age and sports usually don’t go together very well.

As I start my 30s, I am excited about the changes taking place around me. The Web is making everything better and easy. There is talk about a Mars Mission. Self-driving cars. Solar powered cities. Electric cars. Artificial Intelligence. Virtual reality. So much exciting stuff happening all around. Although, this also makes me a bit anxious because I am witnessing all this from the sidelines. It seems that my current skillset will be useless in the future. No worries. Will learn new things.

There is also a lot of existing knowledge in the world that I don’t know about. The least I can do is to learn the basics of all the natural sciences. It would be a crime not to try this, given the resources and accessibility of the web age.

Before ending this post, I would like to set some personal targets for the next decade. These targets are not my career or family goals. These are just some personal goals about things that I believe will make life more interesting. Let’s see. Learn the basics of Astronomy. Understand the theory of relativity. Learn statistics. Focus on computer programming. Try to become a pro in at least one of the web programming languages.

Let me also set a rather hard target. In the next two years, try to build and program a personal bot that lives on the web. This would be akin to the google-assistant (or Siri) but a very much scaled down version. It will only do some automized personal tasks and answer some simple questions about me. But of course, everything in the natural language.

Also, learn to write like Tim Urban, the wait-but-why guy.

As for my travel wishlist, in the next decade, the plan is to travel to Iceland, Norway, New Zealand, Amazon rainforest, and Sahara. Very ambitious, right?

The wishlist for books is already sorted on Goodreads. I can now only hope that both WordPress and Goodreads survive the next decade.

And after writing close to 2500 words, this is me signing off.

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