May 27, 2017 § Leave a comment
[From a mosquito-net-draped bed in a rustic cabin tucked deep into the thick jungle of the Atlantic Forest on an almost uninhabited island off Brazil’s south east coast]
Life has a weird way of pushing you into different directions that you never expected. That’s where I’m at now. But more importantly than life’s “push” is your ability to create order out of the chaos that is the universe. I don’t think it can be overstated that I wanted a certain lifestyle so I went out and created it. It takes time to put yourself into a position where you can comfortably cut out a chunk of your life to focus solely on yourself. At least it took me time. I had to cut ties from people and places that were familiar because I knew that they were not making me better. They were not fulfilling in my endeavor to live life in a way which impacts the world. I had to leave a high paying position and the comfort of the corporate world for the uncertainty of unemployment. I had to leave a prosperous and beautiful region of the country where I had the great urban apartment that I always wanted for the discomfort of sleeping on strangers couches and camping in mosquito infested jungles. I had to leave the known for the unknown.
It was clear my life had reached a stagnant routine far too early. Life should never feel like a dull routine. If life is boring then there’s something lacking from it which will give you the energy and passion to live life the way it should be. And what is the “way it should be”?
Simple. You need walk bravely into the abyss and disorder of the unknown and create a new “known” for yourself. I believe that this is only way to find meaning and purpose in life. And your 20’s should be one of the most potent periods of your life for personal discovery and growth.
So I made changes. And now I’m quite literally heading into the unknown chaos of South America and trying to develop meaning and purpose while surrounded by foreign lands, people, and languages. And it’s exciting as hell. Simple things like conversations with strangers become a means to strengthen my Portuguese and my confidence in speaking a foreign language. Every time I drink a new beer, smoke weed in the street with people I just met, try a traditional tea, eat a new food, or otherwise immerse myself in a new culture I’m discovering more about myself and what I need to improve.
For instance I’ve realized that I’m socially very black or white. I’m extroverted in the sense that I feed off of social interaction. When I’m socially engaged I get excited and speak more and become louder and more confident. I never fully understood this until I came to Brazil. I noticed that it’s very hard for me to follow a conversation in Portuguese when there’s more than three people including myself. Especially if one of them isn’t Larissa. I get lost quickly in the slang and accents and before I know it I’m forced to sit back and quietly listen. Asking every time that I have a question leads to me repeatedly breaking the flow of conversation. As a result I sort of pull away from social interaction and quickly clam up. I’m not upset but after a half hour or so of this I become very socially withdrawn and ready for a nap. My entire mood is affected. So I’ve been trying to find excuses to assert myself into conversations when there’s less than four people. I know I can’t keep up with a large group. But tonight I had a relatively successful conversation over a joint and some mate with Lari and my Airbnb host. Of course it became hard to keep up once I was pretty well stoned but I did a decent job of keeping up for the most part.
Another point: I just heard pretty powerful lyrics in the song This Aint Livin’ by G. Love and The Special Sauce:
The pain lets me know that I’m alive
Life is suffering and you can either roll over on your back and identify with that suffering or you can grab a torch and march forward into the source of that suffering and search for fulfillment. I chose the latter. And although some of the examples I’m experiencing right now are quite literal (confronting foreign and unknown cultures) there’s plenty other ways I’m trying to do this. First and foremost I’ve been watching a series of lectures from a 400 level psychology class which have greatly influenced my last few blog posts and the way I’m approaching life in general. I’ve started creating a list of books I’d like to read either during the course of this trip across South America or when I return to North America. I’ve been following world news and I’ve become fascinated by the knowledge that can be gleaned from ancient mythology and religion. Essentially I’m trying to say that the search for knowledge is where I’m deriving a significant sense of purpose in life. And I don’t expect that to change much for the remainder of my life. I hope to god it’s a long and meaningful life. 😊
I still have social anxiety in certain situations. And I’ve learned that there’s only one way to tackle this type of issue: confront it. In the same way that I’m going head first into the darkness of strange cultures and new ideas I’m trying to find the courage necessary to overcome my social anxiety and show the world what I’m worth. An I can contribute quite a bit, as far as I can tell. In fact if one believes, as I do, that they are talented and competent enough to make memorable change in the world then they need to be able to put the ideas of their mind into words. Spoken language is the most powerful tool we have as humans.
Ate logo, gente.
May 16, 2017 § Leave a comment
[Location: Perched over my laptop on a shitty but serviceable bed in a small hillside favela overlooking the historic center of Ouro Preto, Brazil. São Cristóvão, Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais, Brasil]
I tried listing my current obsessions or mental fixations in a numbered and ordered format. I stopped, because that seems to rigid right now. As I’ve been increasingly grappling with philosophical topics that really strike at the root of what being human means I’ve been noticing my creative side is growing. I no longer look at the world as something that can be categorized scientifically. I’m even beginning to question the existence of objective facts.
I’m questioning the very foundation of my value structures. Interestingly, I’m seeing parallels between what I’m coming to grips with now and some ideas that I’ve read about extensively in the past. I’ll save the details of those connections for some time in the next year when I’ve contemplated these topics much more.
I’m being intentionally vague because using details requires more thought than I’m willing to do right now. Also, because it makes it easier for me to sort my ideas out or at least communicate them to myself. Which brings me to an ancillary but incredibly important revelation from my studies:
The power of logos.
Logos, or the spoken word. Communicating ideas is the best way to fully understand them. And in the brief instances where I’ve introduced ideas I’ve been contemplating to other people I’ve immediately learned things about them that I hadn’t considered. For instance, that they’re wrong. Or that my arguments in favor of them are not strong enough. Or that my approach when making a given argument is not effective.
I’ve also begun to realize that the reason the corporate world never excited me was that I was essentially competing in a dominance hierarchy that does not appeal to me. Striving for professional success is something that drives some people. I was hired into a position that was looking for a young candidate whose drive for professional success would translate into a positive for the team and indirectly for the entire corporation. But after a very brief period of time it became obvious that my long-term aspirations and those of the corporation differed on very fundamental grounds. I quit that job because I realized that. I didn’t have the words to explain that to myself at the time. But I do now.
The difficulty is finding the long term aspirations which best suit my own passion. Luckily I have three things which I can use for tools toward whatever it is that I set my mind to: the ability to think, write, and speak (well). I realize that there are number of things that I need to do over the next five years or so to stabilize my life and orient myself.
First I need friends. And not just any friends. I have those. But I need to find people that have the same ability to think, write, and speak. I can still have friends that I drink and do drugs with. But I need find a couple people that I can sit down with and have serious conversations. I need to find a way to take intellectually stimulation from a solitary exercise to a discussion with others. In other words, I need to exercise the logos.
I need to read. A lot. It’s become clear to me that there’s a bare minimum number of things that one needs to know about history, philosophy, and western culture in order to even sit at the table when important ideas are being discussed. I need to immerse myself in the greatest works of western culture and soak in what they mean to me and to our culture. Nietzsche. Jung. Hume. The list is long. And the reading is tough.
Last, and it appears we’ve come full circle, I need a meaning. And if reading provides a meaning that can orient a good chunk of my personal life then perhaps a career is simply a specific subcategory of meaning. That is, I need to find an aspect of humanity that I can work toward and specialize in that brings me immense satisfaction. I’m considering several options and almost all of them involve me going to graduate school. I’m unsure of this option because of the expenses I would incur. However, I think my technical background and my interest in certain topics may make me a great candidate for a number of specialized fields. I’ve been considering the idea of something as simple as owning a hostel or a small farm and the lack of impact I would make on humanity makes me suspect I could never fully embrace that lifestyle. It’s becoming apparent that academia or an academic oriented field may be the only place that I can feel at home.
May 4, 2017 § 1 Comment
I made a deal with myself to use the next year to better understand who I am and what I want. This is a simple question with a complex answer. At least the path to the answer is complex. There’s multiple ways to better understand yourself but psychology must lie at the heart of it. I’ll start with that today.
Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of lectures by a psychologist named Jordan Peterson and I’ve become interested in his “self-authoring” system. It’s basically a way of evaluating your past by writing about it in order to better understand who you are and better orient your future goals. More importantly to me perhaps, is the idea that one can’t possibly pretend to know what’s best for the world if they don’t first understand what’s best for themselves.
Psychologists agree that there are five main personality traits that describe human behavior. My own thoughts about my past and my personal “self-authoring” story is too personal to post publicly anywhere. But without writing my full “self-authoring” story, perhaps evaluating how I fit into each of these personality traits could be a worthwhile endeavor. Here we go, sluts.
OCEAN (Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism).
“Openness is a general appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, imagination, curiosity, and variety of experience. People who are open to experience are intellectually curious, open to emotion, sensitive to beauty and willing to try new things. They tend to be, when compared to closed people, more creative and more aware of their feelings. They are also more likely to hold unconventional beliefs.”
This is the easiest of the five. This basically describes me. These are qualitative measures but if this were out of 10 I’d give myself a 9. The fact that I’m writing this from a bed in a developing county half a world away from where I grew up says a lot. That, and my at times unconventional beliefs and ideas. My interest in embracing new cultures, languages, and knowledge speaks to that as well.
I’m very open to new experience.
“Conscientiousness is a tendency to display self-discipline, act dutifully, and strive for achievement against measures or outside expectations. It is related to the way in which people control, regulate, and direct their impulses. High scores on conscientiousness indicate a preference for planned rather than spontaneous behavior. The average level of conscientiousness rises among young adults and then declines among older adults”
I’m incredibly unconscientious. I suck at following a schedule and I’ve always been really bad at following deadlines. There was a period from my late teens into my early twenties where I tried to force myself to become more conscientious. But my lack of attention to detail and my impulsiveness eventually came roaring back with a vengeance, like floodwaters being held back by a shoddily constructed dam. I don’t plan for specifics at all. In fact I find planning for trips to be incredibly taxing and stressful and it sucks the life out of whatever it was I wanted to do to begin with. I do like to plan very big ideas about the future, but I save the details for later and generally try to enjoy the path toward that goal rather than worry about the end result.
“Extraversion is characterized by breadth of activities (as opposed to depth), surgency from external activity/situations, and energy creation from external means. The trait is marked by pronounced engagement with the external world. Extraverts enjoy interacting with people, and are often perceived as full of energy. They tend to be enthusiastic, action-oriented individuals. They possess high group visibility, like to talk, and assert themselves”
Unlike the first two, I don’t think this a very clear cut answer for me. On the one hand I do tend to get caught up in too many activities or interests at once. So on the “breadth over depth” I’m certainly more extroverted. I also really enjoy talking to people, especially new people. Learning new things from people I’ve never met before brings me a lot of joy. This is a new piece of information that I learned about myself in the past couple years. In fact, as I’ve grown up I discovered that I love social interaction, and feed off it significantly. I get excited and worked up by good conversations. And sometimes I get a little too intense which can frighten people. 😉
But at the same time I don’t mind being alone at all. And I don’t feel like I’m suffering by being alone for long periods of time. I could sit down with an interesting book and a notepad and enjoy the time alone for hours. However this relates back to my personal “self-authoring” story that I talked about earlier. I spent a good chunk of my childhood alone. My siblings were much older than me and I mom worked all of the time. I was forced at a young age to find innovative ways to “play” without other people around. I eventually started socializing with the neighborhood kids by the age of seven or eight but for a good chunk of my early developing years it was just me. I believe it was at these early ages that I learned to enjoy the peace and tranquility that can come from solitude. I keep that with me today as an adult. But I recognize that this was not a proper socialization, and I should have been around more children my age when I was younger. This, combined with unhealthy relationships in my teen years helped stunt my social development. I believe this is part of the reason I didn’t realize that I was the loud, inflammatory center of attention in social situations until my mid twenties.
An interesting note: I didn’t speak much at all when I was a child in elementary school. I can remember my teachers and mother simply brushing it off as being “shy”. But as an adult I realize that, for reasons outside their control for the most part, the public education system failed to understand the causes of this behavior. Yes, I was a reserved kid. But the inability to recognize the lack of socialization occurring in my home life is mostly due to an overworked mother and a school system which was not (and is not) organized to recognize these kinds of issues. I believe given the proper environment I would have found my inner extrovert much earlier in life. Interestingly, despite socially blooming I still find it difficult to “be myself” in professional and academic settings. I was very introverted while attending classes in high school, college, and professional life. This despite being very socially active in my personal life, especially during my professional years. I believe I’m still carrying baggage from grade school, and recognize I need to break this social barrier in order to truly develop as an adult.
“The agreeableness trait reflects individual differences in general concern for social harmony. Agreeable individuals value getting along with others. They are generally considerate, kind, generous, trusting and trustworthy, helpful, and willing to compromise their interests with others. Agreeable people also have an optimistic view of human nature.”
I’m not agreeable. I don’t sympathize with other an incredible amount. I don’t have a soft heart. I typically do not feel other people’s emotions. I’m not a particularly empathetic or overly kind person. I’m not an asshole, I just don’t sympathize much with the plight of others. I suppose this makes sense, as women typically score much higher on agreeableness than men. The only aspect of agreeableness that I may exhibit is a generally optimistic view of human nature. But that has less to do with me sympathizing with the intentions of others and more to do with my optimistic view of human nature itself and what it means to the universe.
“Neuroticism is the tendency to experience negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, or depression. It is sometimes called emotional instability, or is reversed and referred to as emotional stability. According to Eysenck’s (1967) theory of personality, neuroticism is interlinked with low tolerance for stress or aversive stimuli. Those who score high in neuroticism are emotionally reactive and vulnerable to stress. They are more likely to interpret ordinary situations as threatening, and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult.”
Shit, family. I’m neurotic as fuck. I get angry easily. I find myself upset by dumb shit all the time. I feel that work impedes my ability to have fulfilling relationships and typically become angry and brood a lot about that. I’ve never seen a doctor about being clinically depressed but around August/September I hit a low point. I spent every night (12 hours) at work and on my nights off I would just sleep some of the day and spend the rest of it laying in bed brooding about work and my personal life. Larissa tried to tell me that I was depressed but I denied it. Looking back now I had all of the symptoms of depression in men.
I’m good now but I still frequently find myself up late at night thinking over insignificant details of shit that doesn’t matter. I recognize that this behavior is not healthy and I need to find ways to stabilize my emotions and prevent dark thoughts from clouding the way I look at the world. This is the only aspect of these behavioral traits that makes me concerned about my long term mental health. I’ve never once felt suicidal but I’ve certainly felt some ups and downs that make me question what’s going on in my mind.