Ripples of causality…

I’ll go to court if they make me – let them look at what they’re trying to deport in the eye, and tell them that if this isn’t what an American citizen looks like, I don’t want to be in this country.

I’ll fight that battle, I’ll stay in a fucking holding cell for 6 months pending trial. Because America needs it – a wake up call, that immigration is broken. If I don’t deserve to be here – 30 years of age, top of the field in the most in-demand industry on the planet, perfect mastery of the English language – a poet, a writer, a dancer, mathematician, engineer, a musician, an artist – then fuck them and their motherfucking system, fix it.

And hopefully make the world a better place for everyone, because we need to unite. We need to stand up and be better, man up and focus on the opportunities in front of us. Life fucking sucks, but we have the technology to fix it. I’ll go down a fucking martyr, not some deported, jail-ridden lonely wannabe immigrant.

And it breaks my heart to desire that it may make it a better place for Diane. I’ve become a better man. I want to stand up – and change the world. I don’t matter; there’s a bigger picture. I was selfish, trying to build a better life for myself, now I just want to give everything I have, do my best, because I feel like the world belongs to me, and I have a real voice in building the future.

She made me into this person: willing to risk it all, throw everything away, stand up, try to build a business, something I believe in, against all odds, and give everything I am to the woman I’m in love with: Eunice. Life-long ripples of causality culminating at my decision to marry the person I love, if she will have me.

These thoughts are a lonely grievance, burying a past relationship, the end of a 3-years long mourning process. Eunice, I love you.

Making progress

Focus.

Is the primary resource of the human mind.

It’s what it takes to shape the world, create deliberate change.

It’s what it takes to build a legacy; for me, it’s what it takes to build a company. The skill of being a founder is managing your focus, always choosing the right thing to focus on, then sustaining it.

For real world problems that are complicated and don’t have a well-defined shape, focus is a multi-part endeavor. At first, the right thing to focus on is not obvious, not known – so the thing to focus on is the larger problem – finding the actual smaller things that can be focused on in unraveling the problem. Focus is at first devoted to seeing, not to doing.

What’s wrong in the world? What are the opportunities? Where is the missing cog in the machinery of human civilization? What does it take to build it?

Once the whole and its individual parts are seen step by step through focus, each of the components becomes a thing to focus on. Understanding turns to execution – the more familiar sort of flow.

The key to gracefully performing these shifts and unifying the method of progress is managing levels of abstraction. Switching the level of abstraction that thought is occuring at allows using a unified tool – focus – to make progress on meaty, complex, years long endeavours.

3 items

A  girl told me: “Imagine a white room; it’s empty, but for 3 of your personal items. What are they?”

I thought, and said – I want my guitar, a mirror to practice dancing, and a laptop with internet, so I can study math and physics.

She was skeptical about the laptop; she asked me what the purpose is – what I want to study for; what do I want to find out?

I replied that there is no purpose. It doesn’t have to go anywhere. Learning math and physics is inherently meaningful to me, just as playing guitar, or dancing; I don’t need an audience. I don’t need to become great at it. Simply doing it is already the destination, no further goal needs to exist.

I do have goals, however, I continued. With my career I do have ambitions, and I do want to achieve a certain level – and one of the things I want to achieve is to be free to do the things that are immediately meaningful to me.

Forest for the trees

“… but it’s MY life,” – self-absorbed fragments of  reflection strayed and streamed through my mind, as dire struggles with my basic interview question inevitably closed the door towards the aspirations of a young immigrant graduate Chinese girl sitting in front of me. She just wasn’t very good.

In the same folder where she kept the code for my interview question, I saw interview files for Google, Apple, Amazon, Uber, Twitter. From the way she was thinking about the simple problem I presented, I knew she couldn’t have passed those interviews. I was playing a part in crushing her dreams; maybe she wouldn’t even get to stay in the US.

Perhaps this was a perfect metaphor for me. I felt like my life was falling apart too, as those with the power over my future, nonchalant and carefree, proceeded to make decisions that would devastate my inner world, my own hopes and dreams, and my ambitions.

She was writing out code in silence, slowly. I tried to help, but she asked if she could have a minute, and I didn’t want to make things worse by making her nervous, or disrupting her flow. She was very introverted, lost in her own thoughts, and I’d need to see her thought process to really help her succeed at the interview. At a certain point it’s out of my hands – I have to make an objective evaluation, and there was very little chance she’d make the cut. Clear communication is itself an important skill to get hired as a software engineer.

So I patiently waited for her, as my mind drifted to the struggles that I had been facing. “My immigration status is the largest blocker in my life; there are all these things that I want to do with my life so much greater than what I’m doing. But the lawyer messed up my paperwork, and I’m stuck for 2 years, unable to truly realize my potential, my ambition. They go through a lot of people, and this could have happened to anyone, I just don’t matter that much to the firm, or to the US government, just one life out of many… on a large scale, so inconsequential… But this is MY life. I care about it; it’s the most important thing to me. I have to figure out a way to solve this situation.”

My stomache hurt. I don’t know what I ate, but it’s been haunting me for days; every part of me was aching and broken, and I was doing my best to hide it from her, but she was too lost in the narrowness of her focus to care. I was safe.

It was sad. We could never hire someone who pays so little attention to the world around them, and just sees a task with no understanding for why they’re doing it, what place it has in their life. Just convert specification to code, and shelter away from reality in the obscurity of algorithms and calculation. She was not understanding that the interview evaluates more than just a completed assignment handed over through a barrier of anonymity. The way she connects with co-workers is just as important, we should work together to resolve her issues solving the problem.

I’ve made similar mistakes in my career, and in my personal life; in evaluating my priorities. It’s easier to be narrow – it’s almost a form of escapism, just focusing on the things you can do, and ignoring the larger context that your problems exist in. My boss tells me it’s my direct responsibility to know why – as far as the company’s goals go – I’m working on what I am working on; to question it, and course-correct if the “what” doesn’t align with the “why”.

I wish I understood these matters better in my failed relationships.

“What do I do now? I’ve resolved to leave the past behind, and conquer the world – to do my best, to contribute as much as I can, serve the people I love. Do I leave this country, go build a cryptocurrency business? The opportunity is now; and that is the opportunity in the world of software right now. There is nothing holding me behind. My immigration status in this country is coming to an end, and the next step is so far away; my future is wrought with uncertainty. I can find funding, and go do a business – like I always wanted. There is nothing holding me back but fear, uncertainty, a need for continuity.”

These thoughts creep up on me. I’ve been thinking about the next steps for my life for months now; these huge decisions lay a heavy burden on my shoulders, and I never know how to approach them; they mix and shuffle with scattered feelings, a longing for comfort and authority, someone I can rely on. As I watch my interview candidate struggle to understand the structure of a simple algorithm question, I wonder if we’re both stumbling in the darkness – if only I stood from a higher pedestal of mental clarity and sharpness, the answers would be apparent to me.

It’s my destiny. It’s my life. What is the right path forward? Do I quit, risk it all – my status in the US, my career – and do what I want? Do I resign to this holding pattern that circumstances have forced me into? What of my relationships in this country?

Here I am, thinking of the timescale and path of leaving my company, potentially breaking ties with everything I’ve worked to build over the last 5 years, while trying to help a girl pass her interview, and talking about how our company is the best to work for at a career fair. I realize every person has these neverending personal life struggles, and we make it work with the work we do. In a way I felt happy that the girl allowed my mind to drift into its own private oblivion. But on the other hand, I’d be happier to engage my candidate; I would never allow myself to not be fully present with a person who is reaching out, and trying to connect.

We’re running out of time; she doesn’t even know that what she’s focusing on is a tiny part of the problem I want to present. I start giving her hint after hint, and eventually, she arrives at an answer, though just for the little chunk she was stuck on. I arrive at no conclusion for myself about my life. I’m lost in an endless soup of decisions and emotions, both tempted to take bold steps, and afraid to lose what I have in making them. Perhaps like her, I’m failing to recognize the broader context of my decisions, and my focus is too narrow. Perhaps I need to take a step back, and see the forest for the trees.

Wanting

There is no point wanting what you can’t have.

I want to live in a quiet area with the person I love, in a humble house, play guitar, make video games, work on my singing, dance tango, learn to do handstands, every sort of art, think about the world, read books on mathematics and physics, solve puzzles, problems…

That’s expensive.

If I live my whole life chasing that dream, I’m not living my life.

So I think the right attitude is to want the opportunity in front of you. Maybe I’d be better off doing machine learning, and an opportunity to do block chain is in front of me. Maybe I’d be better off living on a farm and studying art, but I’m here in the US, on a work visa that allows and forces me to work in software, and that’s the opportunity I have.

There is something to love about seeing the problem, or challenge – opportunity – in front of you and attacking it. Instead of thinking there is a different challenge better suited for you.

I respect humility, and I respect peace; a life of meditation, humble growth, service, and love.

But that’s not what it takes to attack the problem that’s in front of me. It takes a different character, and that is what can rise to the opportunity that I do have, rather than what I wish I had. So as I adapt, instead of cultivating the peace of mind I looked to cultivate doing art, I study a different part of my mind, one less peaceful and more ambitious – impatient, incessant, daring, passionate, fearless.

Though deep inside, dormant, at times forgotten, has to rest a truer form; one searching peace and simplicity.

#downloadedthebitcoinsourcecode

Saturation 2

I want to lead a daring, colorful life.

Achievement, experiment, excitement, major milestone, major milestone, life changing revelation, epic place of dreams I’ve never been to, invention, overcoming challenge. You scroll through my facebook feed and it’s just like holy fuck how does anyone live like this.

But every day can’t be achievement, or life changing revelation.

There is a pace to the exceptional, and if it happens daily, it’s not exceptional. If I go to the Philippines once it’s exciting, what a man of mystery. But if I’m just living there it’s same old, might as well be gray and not extravagant sunset orange skies, milky white sand dunes, and emerald green crystal ocean.

To me, the every day would be great. But for someone who found out I live in the Philippines once, seeing great weather day picture #247 is the same as just seeing the first few.

Having every day be filled with excitement and reaching milestones is not a real thing to want. It’s just impatience, and insatiable hunger that leads nowhere. It’s a distraction from the flow of excellence, of striving to learn, and do your best. It’s a goal, not a way of life, an addiction, not a path.

However, there has to be a way to organize life such that it is filled with novelty and overcoming great challenges. Finding new kinds of challenges, learning every day, planting new seeds that take years to grow. And eventually it will come time to reap them all; and maybe life then can be like holy fuck how does anyone live like this.

Starting

I often improvise on piano, and I sometimes find some really cool stuff to play, and enjoy myself greatly. But I never memorize any of what happens, I don’t write it down, and I’m not sure how to get there again.

Most of the time I play, though, I do get to an interesting place – so I’m reasonably certain that if I start, I can find something. And often, I don’t know how to start.

So I thought – I need a standard way to start. And I thought that this would be useful not just for piano, but for everything I do – a standard way to get into it, that is nothing like the thing itself, but that always leads to the target thing flowing well.

For piano, it had to be something very simple, that I know how to transform into everything else I’d play. And so that’s what I worked out – a basic flow, that necessarily forces me to go outside of it, that is not stable for me to get comfortable in and forget myself; a flow with an open question, something unresolved.

I don’t want to limit myself by the way I start. I’d love to work out many different ways to start, and keep working out new ones. But I think someone who truly knows their craft always knows some standard openings. A chess maestro has them memorized.

For software, I feel like I should never be at a loss of ideas for the next most important thing to change in the world that contributes to my goals the most. My standard way of getting into the years-long flow is notes. And they have to work on every scale of time – from my day to day, to the intermediate milestone, to the grand vision; opening them should enable me to think about every scale of the problem.

Skill

A friend of mine told me that discipline is skill – that getting up early at the same time, and going to bed at the same time – is not a choice, but a skill.

I asked him why – I’ve been trying to stick to that sort of schedule, and I’ve been very consistent over the course of a few weeks. In my understanding, a skill is something that takes years to develop, and you can’t have if you one day wake up and decide you want to have it. I asked – what is the trainable aspect of getting up early?

He answered.

The skill isn’t getting up early once, it’s having a low error rate – what percentage of days in a year do you fail to stick to your daily commitment? More importantly – why?

Understanding why it happens each time, and committing to routines that prevent those situations in the future – is the skill. And it takes years, because only in trying to implement your routine will you find your natural habits that break that routine. And only in knowing them, and deliberately avoiding them – having tools, tricks, hacks to avoid them – can you improve the rate at which you respect your commitment.

And that is the skill of discipline: knowing yourself.

Saturation

I quite enjoy talking with my mentor – I learn a lot, or at least I get food for thought. He’s a busy man, though, so we can’t talk every day.

But if we could, we’d have nothing to talk about. Part of how the conversation starts is reflecting on progress. With no progress, there’s nothing to reflect on. A thoughtful conversation with someone more experienced is bound by saturation, as is all growth.

Every day we wake up, we have a finite amount of energy, and we can choose what to do with that energy. But only a certain amount of it can be allocated to each type of growth until the saturation point is reached, and you will grow no further by investing more of your energy into the problem.

Most complex skills are subject to this, and optimal practice is informed by the limitation. Practicing guitar for 30 minutes every day yields much greater improvements than practicing for 3.5 hours every Sunday. If one day, old, you wake up and decide you want to know how to play, you’re inspired, and explode with energy – you won’t be able to transmute that energy to skill.

Perhaps a major cause of the limitation with something like guitar is the limited pace at which neurons can grow. It’s similar to the constraints on muscle growth. Work out, eat, muscles grow, repeat. Attempt a pattern of movement, eat, neural tissue grows, repeat.

This understanding places a limit on incremental growth, which is a crucial part of development. I think one way around this sort of limitation is to focus on breadth in a skill: practice a different aspect, that a different set of neurons would be responsible for. For truly complex skills, there are enough different aspects to occupy a full day, so all the time you have in a day can be dedicated to improvement.

There is a different sort of limitation – a bottleneck of understanding. Often work is done in the wrong direction, or not fully correctly. Or the right question is not asked for optimal growth; the framework of thinking about the problem is missing something. This is a sort of thing that mentorship and guidance is good for. It can help find the right questions.

Until you arrive at a question, though, hearing the answer may not even be helpful. Questions only come in struggling with the tools you have at your disposal. But once you have earned the question, you are truly ready to hear the answer, understand it, and instantly incorporate it into your worldview. This is the limitation of conceptual jumps, epiphanies.

These sorts of limitations – incremental and fundamental – apply in the realm of thinking as well. It’s possible to get very good at thinking, but it’s a journey of stumbling in darkness, making mistakes, reflecting deeply. You need to incorporate a style of thinking – which is a life-engulfing discipline – apply it, course-correct, and try again.

Human life is fraught with moderation. The most beautiful moments in life are moments where the rules are broken, or when a transcendental truth is spoken. But if a rule is broken every moment, they don’t truly exist, and there is no beauty in breaking them. If all truths are transcendental, there is too much noise, and nothing is worth listening to. Transformational conversations only have something to transform if there is something between them.

Creative thinking

I’ve long had this theory that creative thinking is merely logical thinking, after taking a step back from the problem at hand, and looking at it at a space on level above, or a meta space, or perhaps adding an extra dimension into consideration.

For dance, taking a step back would mean instead of executing the sequence of moves, looking at what rules those moves are made out of, and then altering those rules. what you do is a product of how you move – so change how you move.

For music, a piece can start to feel flat and lifeless if you’re just playing interesting patterns in a scale. Perhaps you find one interesting pattern; then another interesting pattern. And then eventually you exhaust the variety of new note patterns, stuck playing by the rules of note patterns. A step back, what are the patterns made of? For one, they are a system – and as a system, they blend together differently: staccato, legato, accent, rhythm. For two, they are made of sound – which has texture, resonance, attack, amplitude.

What about problem solving? You’re playing within a certain framework of rules, a formal system. But that framework itself is defined in a formal way; the rules are somehow described – through meta-rules, which adhere to the same logical principles as rules themselves. If you are able to break out of the box and use the language of the meta-rules – you, applying logical thinking, make a creative leap, as observed by someone stuck playing by just the rules of the problem.