Awe, Getting Lost, Finding the Others & Intellectual Butlers | #234
August 8th, 2023: Greetings from Connecticut.
Tonight, I’m headed back to Taiwan with my daughter and wife. This would have been unimaginable five years ago when I was headed to Taiwan.
But perhaps it shouldn’t have been that surprising. Looking back at a newsletter reflection from 2018, I can see how I was becoming more open to the world:
The deepest experience of this (awe) and a profound sense of wonder overtook me last night as I was walking with another friend in the Boston Public Garden. She pointed out that every single tree in the park is different, each a gift from different parts of the world. With this comment, a new park emerged as if t had been re-created. Looking at the park, there was nothing to see but the big picture - an incredible mix of beauty from all over the world.
I had walked through this park countless times but never saw the whole park. For ten years, I have sat on park benches, read in the grass, just take a leisurely stroll on a sunny day, but never fully knew what was there. If I could be so blind, what else am I missing? What else is there to discover at a deeper level? And will it always take me ten years to figure it out? (I hope not, but alas...)
In seven days, I'll be boarding a flight to Taipei to begin a chapter in my life of living and working nomadically. As I've simplified my life and embraced minimalism, I have noticed that I have had more time and have been in less of a rush to "do things," giving me the chance to take routes that don't make sense, go for random walks through the city and make time to have conversations I wouldn't otherwise have. I feel so lucky and as I make the shift to Taipei, it seems much less a "vacation" or "trip" and much more an extension of an increased appreciation for life and the people in it. I'm looking forward to this next evolution...
From August 2018
Around the same time, I wrote an essay on how I got caught up in collecting Beanie Babies when younger. It was one of my first attempts at being more playful with my writing. But it was also me starting to commit to the things I wanted to do:
Next month, I’m doing something on a larger scale that doesn’t make much sense — moving across the world and starting a journey of living nomadically. The first ten years after college, I followed a path that made too much sense. I pursued prestige, status, and success and by all accounts was good at it. However, I lost connection to who I was.
Taking the leap to self-employment and exploring my creative side over the past few years, I have unlocked that silly side of myself I didn’t realize was locked away. Creating things that don’t seem to make sense. Writing to see what comes out (like this piece). Creating things on the internet without any intent to “scale.” Helping people without any expectation of payback.
As I travel and continue to learn as an adult, I hope to never abandon the playful and silly mindset to do things I am drawn to and sometimes without reason. Creation for the joy of creation. Silliness for the sake of being silly.
While I may have felt a bit lost at the time, it’s interesting to see how the things I was starting to commit to — writing and creating — have lasted. I was only lost in the sense that I had abandoned the former script of my life. But I had fully found a state of being I wanted to keep showing up in.
Five years ago, I sensed that moving to Taiwan was a start to a new chapter in my life And this turned out to be true. Taiwan will always be a special place for me. I’m excited to take the first of many trips to Taiwan with my daughter and see the place again through her eyes. Perhaps this trip will offer some wisdom about what comes next. It doesn’t feel like I’m on the edge of something like I was in 2018. But again, you just can’t ever know.
#2 On Finding The “Others”
When I look back to the start of my path, I realize that one of the most important things I stumbled into was “finding the others.” If I could change one thing about my journey it would be to proactively seek out people who were working in non-traditional ways before I quit my job. My main source of inspiration before quitting was podcasts and while the intimate sounds of people sharing their unconventional recipes for life in my ear were inspiring there were not nearly as influential as hearing such stories in real life.
In my first year, I met people like Khe Hy, Stephen Warley, and Nita Baum (I wrote about them in my book). They were on paths that made sense to me and had similar perspectives on life, time, and work. They became friends and it gave me confidence to keep betting on myself.
In interviewing hundreds of people on my podcast I’ve noticed that “finding the others” is a common phase in people’s journeys. It’s often an inflection point that helps people really commit to their path.
As I’ve paid more attention to this phenomenon, I have started to see it everywhere. Check out this clip from Bertrand Russell:
Here’s the full text of what he said:
I got to Cambridge when I was 18. And, uh, that of course was a new world to me completely. I, for the first time met people who, when I said anything that I really thought, I didn't think it'd absurd, I'd learned at home to say almost nothing about what I really thought.
People had a horror of philosophy, which interested me, and uh, they would say every time philosophy was mentioned, philosophy is summed up completely in these two questions. What is matter? Nevermind. What is mine no matter, and at about the 60th repetition of this remark, I ceased to be amused by it. When I got to Cambridge, it was a great comfort to me to find people who didn't regard philosophy as absurd, so that I was very, very happy when I first got to Cambridge.
I quickly got to know a great many people who became my lifelong friends
I find this doubly interesting because Russell had every advantage you could ask for in the 1800s being part of an impressive family of aristocrats and prime ministers. But those kinds of advantages don’t guarantee the sense of excitement and abundance that can come from knowing others who are deeply curious about the world in similar ways.
Growing up Bertrand felt alone. In his Autobiography, he writes that his curiosity of Mathematic saved him:
“There was a footpath leading across fields to New Southgate, and I used to go there alone to watch the sunset and contemplate suicide. I did not, however, commit suicide, because I wished to know more of mathematics.”
What a relief it must have been, then, to find people at University that no longer thought his curiosities were absurd.
#3 Intellectual Butlers & Your Life Cause
Are modern knowledge workers “intellectual butlers.” I thought Evan Armstrong captured the nature of knowledge work well in his recent essay:
My career in tech consisted of creating slides for the pre-meeting, tweaking said slides for the actual meeting, and conducting the obligatory post-meeting debrief *gags*. Some of my finance-oriented roles had me do more spreadsheet work, but the workflow was the same. At times, I would be on the strategy team or would be doing work for VC funds, but the job was basically identical. Perform analysis, convince people it was right, move on to the next thing—all without ever having a stake in the idea. Being a glorified intellectual butler was a great way to make money.
The rest of the essay is about committing to your path in life which of course resonates with what I’m up to here. While I might uses different language than working hard and effort here, I think I agree with the essence of what Evan is saying here:
What I am instead arguing for is something more expansive. The thing you should work hard at is everything. Finding ways to imbue each moment with meaning and purpose and effort is the only path to long-term happiness.
You must devote yourself to the cause of your life.
Paradoxically, trying to get rid of work to give happiness the space to grow does the opposite. It leaves a gap in your soul into which rushes your insecurities and fears. Being busy with things that bring you goodness is what matters.
For me, this rhymes with how I think about ambition: don’t waste ambition on other people’s goal, aim your ambition at living the life only you can life.
#4 From Rugby Player to Author to TikTok?!
Ben was a professional rugby player with an English literature degree — something not unheard of in the diverse rugby world, but also certainly not usual. After retiring from the sport, he was confronted with the task of redesigning his life. Although it was a bit more challenging than he expected, he focused on the things he enjoys doing, which proved very beneficial in the long term.
Some quotes of things we talked about:
On Transitioning from Professional Sports (26:00)
I was mourning the loss of my identity as a rugby player… It was a difficult time. I was anxious about the future, I had income anxiety, I’d just come out of a long-term relationship. I was underestimating how difficult that transition was going to be.
On Career Exploration (28:01)
I worked in a bike business, I did some freelance writing, I did some project management… I was just trying to find out what I liked. I was trying to find out what I was good at. I was trying to find out what I could make a living from.
On Networking and Community (33:03)
I was networking, I was joining online communities… I was meeting interesting people. I was trying to find out what was out there. I was trying to find out what I could do. I was trying to find out what I enjoyed.
On Writing and Self-Publishing (37:00)
I wrote a book about my experiences… I decided to self-publish it… It became a bestseller in the rugby category on Amazon. I was really proud of that. I was really proud of the fact that I’d done it myself.
On Personal Growth and Learning (39:01)
I learned to enjoy my own company… I challenged myself in new ways… I developed new interests. I learned to surf, I started running long distances. I was open to learning. I was open to personal development.
Thanks For Reading!
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