02 Jun 2017

Life Perspective

Elements of my personal life perspective which I find most impactful.

Below are some of my personal life perspectives.

I know they don’t hold universally and it isn’t my intention to convince anyone of any of them. Specifically, these views originate from various sources and schools of thought – Buddhism to computer science to positive psychology. They’re just things I strongly believe in, for better or for worse, rationally or irrationally.

Here we go!

Suffering is universal.

Simply put, life is suffering. While it may sound depressing, it really isn’t meant to be. On the contrary, it’s meant to acknowledge that life’s suffering should be expected and any joy beyond it is a gift, not the other way around.

As Mark Manson puts it:

“One of those realizations was this: that life itself is a form of suffering. The rich suffer because of their riches. The poor suffer because of their poverty. People without a family suffer because they have no family. People with a family suffer because of their family. People who pursue worldly pleasures suffer because of their worldly pleasures. People who abstain from worldly pleasures suffer because of their abstention.

This isn’t to say that all suffering is equal. Some suffering is certainly more painful than other suffering. But we all must suffer nonetheless.”

This leads to the second belief, that . . .

Life owes one nothing at all. Nothing whatsoever.

By being born, I’m entitled to neither a good life nor a happy family nor a great career. If anything, by sheer probability, I’m entitled to a disadvantaged life; after all, at least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.

By some miracle, I was born into the 0.10% of the world that has access to the internet, a top education, and the comfort of having time and freedom to write this blog. I know that’s something that I need to appreciate and value more often.

Sometimes, when things go wrong, I’ll wonder “why me? Why did this happen to *me*?”

This belief is about moving away from that view. This belief is about acknowledging that any sickness or sadness I have or will get, from cancer to death of loved ones, is simply a part of life, in the way that a mouse might be born, get cancer, and will eventually die.

Instead of expecting continuous joy and being heartbroken when life happens, this belief is about expecting these sad moments as part of life and valuing and appreciating anything beyond guaranteed suffering – in other words, appreciating joy and realizing it’s extraneous and that I’m lucky to even have it.

Identity is the average of one’s actions.

Even if I could theoretically be more generous, my defined generosity is the integration of my past giving behavior.

This notion has a pretty impactful corollary:

Labels which characterize our self-identity - for example ‘extrovert’ or ‘introvert’ - are simply determined by the integration of our actions over time.

By this logic, changing our identities is relatively straightforward; it’s a simple matter of changing my actions at time t and beyond. Over time, if I continue those actions, the integration of those behaviors generate the label, not the other way around.

In the same way a smoker becomes a non-smoker by, day by day, not smoking, an introvert can become an extrovert by, day by day, going out to events more, reaching out to more people, etc.,

In this way, changing an identity is way simpler and straightforward than we originally think; it’s a matter of changing small, daily action that is entirely independent of past action and entirely dependent on present motive.

All is well that ends well and if it’s not well, it’s not the end.

Call me irrational or call me an optimist.

90% of things are Google-able

If you’ve studied computer science or have seriously coded at any point in your life, you too, know that 90% of things are Google-able, given a requisite amount of patience, grit, and Stack Overflow. This one skill – of being confident of finding a solution before you’ve done so — is so, so powerful and makes the frustration of learning CS so worth it.

There’s always more to learn, always more to improve on.

I am obsessed with self-improvement – always have been, always will be. I fundamentally believe no matter how awesome I am (or not am), there is always more to improve on, always more to learn.

I consider myself a constantly evolving piece of software - continually identifying the bugs and feature implementations I can add to myself and the million things I have yet to learn.

Perception is just as important as objective measurement and often needs to be actively managed.

Victor Cheng puts it beautifully here:

“In the Olympics and many other sporting events, you don’t need to worry about perceptions. Your performance is measured down to the hundredths of a second. It is objective.

However, business is different. Ideas and perception of ideas are subject to the influence of human psychology and sociology.

To be successful in business (and in any subjective endeavor), you need to both BE and be PERCEIVED as competent.

If your perceived competence < your actual competence, then you know how frustrating this can be. This is especially a problem if you’re young, a woman in a male-dominated field, an ethnic minority, or come from a non-Tier 1 school in a field full of Ivy League graduates.

Conversely, don’t think that by just merely getting more competent that perceptions will follow. If you are male, white (at least in the United States), a Harvard graduate, and haven’t damaged your reputation yet, then yes, perception of competence will often increase with actual competence.

If you’re anyone else, perceptions don’t always automatically follow reality. Sometimes you need to take an active role in managing perceptions. Sometimes you need to make developing your gravitas a priority.”

You can never approach the limit of positive affirmation in a relationship.

We all love being loved. This reminds me to freely and unabashedly affirm those around me.

The way you present an argument is just as important as the argument itself.

As they say, a spoonful of honey catches more flies than a gallon of vinegar. This reminds me to forgo the temptation of winning a debate or becoming argumentative in favor of a more effective method of convincing someone.

People are not immutably bad.

We all have that one friend who we didn’t quite like at first, but over time, got to know better, which then allowed for a deeper friendship to grow.

Over time, you can change the way people act towards you by changing how you act towards them.

I think, even with the seemingly ‘meanest’ person, if one has the patience to continuously show them a softer side, that person will slowly soften as well, mirroring how you treat them. Sure it may take time, and most of us don’t have this kind of patience, but I think for the majority of people, this is most definitely the case.

As Gretchen Rubin puts it, “I can’t make [someone else] change, but when I change, a relationship changes.

As a leader, everything is your fault.

For me, being a leader comes down to 100% ownership.

People aren’t getting along? Your fault - you should have done more team-bonding activities or something to create a better culture.

A major project fell through? Your fault, you should have assigned it to someone with more commitment to making it happen.

Deep, seemingly intractable problems are often entirely solvable or manageable.

There are two possible views on seemingly intractable problems — a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset:

A Fixed Mindset

“I’ve decided my acne is never going away.”

or

“I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m going to be insecure about X / have low self-esteem in that area.”

or

“I’m just bad at math.”

A Growth Mindset

“I know there’s a solution to my acne. I just have to find it. I may have to try 30 products to find The One, but it’s surely out there”

or

“I know I’m super insecure about X/have low self-esteem about it. And there is a way to get over it. I’ll probably have to read a hundred books to find the 1 page that explains it, but in any case, the solution is out there – I just have to dedicate the time to find it.”

or

“With enough practice, I can get better at math.”

I strongly believe in the latter - that solutions do exist for really hard problems – it’s just a matter of time (sometimes years) to find them.

I strongly believe that achievement is more a function of how you play the cards you have than a function of how the cards were dealt.

The only thing you can do in life is not make the same mistakes over and over again.

When I first heard this phrase I wasn’t sure I entirely agreed with it; after all, you technically can consult books, mentors, friends to avoid making mistakes in the first place.

That being said, the phrase is incredibly calming, in light of a personal mistake, precisely because there’s some truth to it. At the end of the day, all you can do is try to avoid making the same mistake over and over again.

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– Neha