I've just turned 29. Props to this guy for the soul read.
These are just some reflections on life so far, and what I'd like to focus on in the future. A major theme of my past year has been on existential issues around work, and I think that going forward, I'll be writing more about other things... but then again, maybe not. I'm a free spirit!
tl;dr In summary, local man realizes that earning grotesque amounts of money early in his career, combined with extensive networking, have given him the leverage to actually focus on fun things for a while. Direct hatemail to email@example.com and save yourself the trouble of reading.
It's 7 AM in the morning on a winter day, with gray skies screened away by my living room curtains, the gradual drip of water occasionally punctuated by the forlorn cries of a bird whose identity I've never worked out in the long years of being here. Day 1 of 365 on the march to finally hitting 30.
I couldn't get any more sleep despite a late night. It seemed like the time for reflection, so here I am, reflecting.
I've never been someone to take my own birthday particularly seriously. A fun fact: at the dinner I set up yesterday, I forgot to book a seat for myself. The birthday muscles have atrophied badly. However, someone referred to yesterday as "the last celebration of my 20s", and that was enough to shift me into the contemplative mood.
To work from the past forward, or from the present backwards? The natural order to reflect in seems like it would be from my childhood, drawing clear lines of causality from events to the present, until I'm left with an obvious narrative as to where I am now.
However, I got into statistics and I.T by reading Taleb, leaving me with a natural distrust of narratives. So we're going to do two things differently. Firstly, we're going to start from the future, going backwards, and the other thing I'll mention later.
In five years, if all goes well, I'm supposed to be running a small software consultancy with my closest friends and to be a licensed clinical psychologist. I would be 34. My attention is drawn immediately to two things. One, that both does major events start with the good ol' if all goes well. If all goes well, I'd run my own business and have an extremely prestigious clinical qualification, and if my grandmother had wheels then she'd be a bicycle. It's chaos all the way through, and life is driven entirely by that chaos, punctuated by brief periods of predictability where I might successfully make a few cups of tea. Whatever I accomplish during these moments where my model of the world holds up is generally washed away like ants before a storm in the face of the world... just being the world.
I'd normally illustrate this point at great length, but these days we have recourse to waving our hands resignedly at the years 2020 - 2022 and shrugging helplessly.
I have concrete plans for the future, and the main thing I've learned in 29 years is:
It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.
The second thing that I notice about that future is that they're all career goals. When I started working part-time after some real existential crisis, my thinking was that this wasn't sustainable forever. Not because it literally wasn't sustainable - I can easily live off this money for a long time to come. No, it was unsustainable because I was thinking of how many life goals I'd be implicitly giving up on.
A house? Forget about it, I don't save enough to pace the prices now that I'm part-time. I was extremely lucky to be one of the few young people that actually was easily on track to afford a place in this particular city. So part-time means that a house is off the table for a while.
More money and status? I'm a senior engineer in my field, despite having only worked for three months as a junior and barely understanding fundamental data engineering. I'm not sure how fulfilling it would be to climb a ladder that is so obviously broken - no one is smart enough to go through that progression honestly. The industry just has no idea how to hire. Or, to quote Patrick McKenzie:
"The tech industry is fundamentally unserious about how it recruits, hires, and retains candidates. "
Money is certainly instrumentally useful, but status-craving is a poison pill for the spirit. And without a use for the money... well, it isn't a great buy at all, especially at the cost of my very limited youth.
After thinking carefully, the house can wait, I have enough money for now, and I think more status would be bad for me. I've also learned that I'm the type of person that can't handle five days of soulless screen-staring in an office, so I'd have to purchase all of the above at great expense until I work some things out.
I grew up in Asia. You've just witnessed some crazy self-actualization.
A last little section on career before we move on. I've reflected on the negative, but some things that I've enjoyed:
- I love motivating other engineers to push their limits and make a good living for themselves
- I have a deep love for teaching, and I've been doing a lot of study lately, because it turns out it's way easier to teach other engineers when you're very talented
- The face time I've gotten with some older people around the office has been great. There really isn't a substitute for life experience, and the hard thing as a young person is realizing you're probably still going to blunder through all your mistakes the hard way. David Whyte warns that when a friend asks if they should really date someone that's bad for them, it's already too late and they're going to do it. In the same way, I think young people are destined to make a lot of the same mistakes even with plenty of warning up front, and the best we can do is do is get it over with quickly
- I can bail friends out of trouble when they need money, which is pretty wonderful when you think about it
- I've helped some friends leave horrifying careers by cross-training into technology. Yes, there are many issues with the tech industry, but there are plenty of worse places to be
And finally, I've been absolutely crunching through some technical reading, with the goal of having extreme leverage to find something fulfilling when I decide I'm done being part-time. And hey, it turns out actually being good at tech instead of cruising feels great. Weirdly enough, I don't think it comes with more money, but I think it does come with more happiness. To quote a reader:
You gotta live with the reality that being great at something is mainly for you.
Putting career aside, what would I actually like to focus on? Well, I've mentioned I'm part-time, with a solid contract that will last me until 2026 if I choose to exercise the whole thing. The last time I wrote, I was kicking off a tech company with friends. Fortunately, or unfortunately, they've fallen into very well-paid roles, and I think that stuff is going to be on hold for a while as people buy houses and secure incomes for their families. Then again, who knows?
I've been spending a fair amount of time in music classes, which have been an extremely pleasant way to while away the time, despite my profound lack of natural ability. I highly recommend this for adults, especially if you missed out as a kid.
Around March 2021, I finally learned how to draw, after years of being terrible at it. I'll share some pictures in the future, but it really only took a few hours to go from absolutely terrible to hey, not bad. I'd like to do lots more of this.
I've started attending a weekly improv class, where I've made many close friends. If I recommend music classes, then improv is mandatory. It's a wonderful exploration of social dynamics, psychology, and vulnerability, which I plan to write about soon.
I've been running a game of Pathfinder 2e (a Dungeons and Dragons competitor, in case there was any doubt about how nerdy I am) with some of my closest friends for the last year and a half, and I've finally found I've got enough free time to enjoy it instead of feeling like I'm burning precious non-office hours. I take this seriously enough that I'd like to write my own competitor in the space.
My older friends have also told me this is a great time to really get some strength training and serious cardio in, because I won't enjoy my forties if I don't get started now.
And lastly, I can honestly say that I've deeply enjoyed talking to everyone that I've met over this blog. I had my first video call with a reader this week, and I've got another one scheduled for tomorrow. Writing honestly has been one of the best things that I've ever done for various reasons. You always hear that hell is other people, but hey, those connections are what make life worth living.
It probably isn't great for my career, especially as I've been pretty honest about how I see industry, but as someone told me recently, "I could have earned more money, but I have to be myself".
Twenty seven years, twenty seven years old
Only thing I know, the only thing I get told
I gotta sell out if I want to get sold
Don't want the devil to be taking my soul
I write songs that come from the heart
I don't give a fuck if they get into the chart, or not
Only way I can be, is to say what I see
And have no shadow hanging over me
In summary, I have spent an unhealthy amount of time over the past year thinking about corporate dynamics, and I highly recommend that people, including myself, touch grass more often. If you know of any good grass to touch, please make me aware of it at firstname.lastname@example.org. So far, I have received two recommendations for fly fishing and nothing else. I don't want to murder our aquatic friends, but I'll be left with little choice at this rate.