dear person who doesn’t know what they’re doing with their life,

No one knows what they’re doing. Through experience, asking around a lot, failing repeatedly, and being lucky, some people learn how to do some things. Maybe people get to the point where they can develop an achievable grand goal. For the most part, we’re guessing. We’re taking risks and hoping that our past experience is enough to base the future off of. Perhaps there are individuals out there, hiding under rocks and behind fake plants who genuinely know what they want to do, love it when they get there, and keep doing it for their whole life. What’s important to realize is that most people don’t fall into that category.

Consider how many atoms there are. Now consider how many electrons there now. Now think about quarks, leptons, antiquarks, antileptons, and realize that we are incapable of grasping how many atoms there were; how could you physically grasp how many quarks there are? It’s beyond us, we have no frame of reference to understand how tiny and numerous elementary particles of atoms are. Here’s the important question: does it matter? Functionally, no. It didn’t matter that Anaximander and rest of the ancient Greek philosophers didn’t know what elementary particles were, they still were made of them. They still lived full lives, had a great impact on the world, and got the chance to share some really interesting perspectives with those around them. We don’t need to understand every facet of the world to live a good life in it. We couldn’t physically do it, and it would be a waste of time even if we did.

Why don’t we see our lives in this way? There are so many factors milling about, forming our existence. We can’t know what is ahead of us. The unknown will never go away. Being afraid of the unknown is irrational because we can’t know the nature of it. Living in fear will make us less effective at everything else, and that’s still assuming fear makes us more prepared. Maybe it makes sense if you’re wandering around in neolithic times, worried about a tiger pouncing on you. In the modern world, it’s largely a stumbling block. If you’re afraid of getting fired, you being afraid won’t make being fired any less difficult to find another job after. There’s a potential that the fear might make the failure more easy to deal with at the moment, but dealing with problems effectively doesn’t require it. We will always be unprepared for something, and that’s part of life, not necessarily a stamp of shame.

At the same time, even if we know our fears are irrational, it doesn’t mean we stop feeling them. Getting angry at ourselves because it’s irrational or pretending like it doesn’t matter doesn’t address the problem. We get angry. We become anxious and stressed. We can be incredible balls of negative energy when we feel like it. The trick is to ask ourselves why we feel the way we do, to understand why we’ve gotten ourselves worked up. If it’s something we can fix, then we should try to fix it. If it’s something we can’t, we have to learn to let go. Neither of those things is easy. Learning to deal with our emotions is something that will take a long while because they are integral to who we are. It’s something we work on, little by little, doing what we can where we can.

We don’t know what we’re doing, but what is easier to answer is, what are we doing right now? We can start with realizing that we are breathing. Then we can realize what position our body is in. Then slowly, we can work our way out to the room we’re in, the time of day, and start to consider things that are broader. What are your typical activities? What are you currently accomplishing where you are, in your job or education or in whatever your present situation is? Those are practical things, graspable things. That is what you are doing with your life, regardless of your past and your future plans. When it comes to the future, it’s a matter of looking for opportunities to the best of your ability, to try and take them when they come your way. Maybe you’ll eventually be able to start planning for a big goal, but the priority is in the present. Do what you can. Focus on what you can accomplish right now. If you take opportunities that you end up hating, then learn from it and try something else. We are limited in many ways, but if you assume the doors are locked, you’ll never find the one that isn’t.

Dear person reading this, I don’t know what you will do with your life, and you don’t either. However, what you do is up to you. The unknown is scary, but it could also be wonderful, and at the very least, parts of it will be boring. Focus on now, and keep going, because the other options are miserable and frankly, dull.

spacetime is bread and sensation can be surprisingly scary

Sensation is an interesting experience, partly because it’s one of our only experiences. If we want to, we can become aware of our entire body. We can become aware of the noises occurring around us. Our skin, our eyes, it can feel the temperature of the air around us, in different waves. Spacetime is such an incredible concept because the more we think about temporality and spatial reality as a giant loaf that encompasses our existence, the more we think of ourselves as a point in that amorphous blob.

Awareness of sensation is so revolutionary for the mind to experience because it forces us to flip our orientation: we are not the center of the universe. We are a part in a much greater whole. People can differ on what sort of whole it is, or the medium in which it exists, but besides the solipsists, most people agree that we are not the only thing that exists. As terrifying as this may be, it can also be comforting.

If you mess up, life will go on. If you’re awkward and fumble in a social situation, the people you fumble in front of will probably forget about it within the next five minutes. No one obsesses at night about someone else’s social faux pas, they obsess about their own. For most individuals, other people will generally respect you and not wish ill upon you. If someone is unusually cruel and prejudiced based upon your basic attributes (things that you can’t change or don’t have an influence on the kind of person you are, morally), their judgment is irrational.

Generally, people don’t care. It’s the default. However, the actions you take have an influence on others, and you can make people care. You are here right now. Your decisions are your own. We make mistakes and then we try to fix them and avoid doing the same in the future. You are here right now, and you, this point in spacetime, are pretty amazing.

drawing from variation

Drawing is like life. Sometimes we sketch something out and it’s amazing, so much better than we were expecting! Other times we work on piece for hours and it still looks like a wreck. There’s that famous story of Picasso, who apparently once drew a photo of a lady for her in 30 seconds, and then demanded a massive amount of money for it. She was outraged! It had taken him 30 seconds! And yet his response was, “It has taken me 30 years to learn how to draw that in 30 seconds”. A lot of people like the flash and dazzle of becoming someone great. But becoming someone great means great sacrifice, all the time, for years. When we work on anything, there’s going to be variation in how it turns out. Like drawing, something it turns out fabulous without effort! Other times? Maybe not so much.

In math textbooks, they usually use data sets that are very clean. A slope is linear, tends to be either strong or nonexistent. Whether it be a parabola, or some a logarithmic trend, they like to use examples where there is a predictable trend. That’s the main focus of statistics, trying to predict where the numbers will end up. And yet, when it comes to things like human actions, it’s not so easy. You can’t plug “stress” into y=mx+b and expect to know when the right time to go to sleep is. Moods go up and down, people around you are affected by their own lives, situations appear out of nowhere! Consistency is a beautiful thing, but frankly, we rarely get it.

There are variations for which we cannot account. There are falls and jumps in the data set of our lives. Sometimes we just have a bad day. Or week. But like drawing, life is something that you practice. Life is art that isn’t quite right just yet. Still, if artists were ever truly done, they wouldn’t be able to make money off of their skill. Each day is a doodle, a sketch in the notepad. Respect that doodle, even if it’s a mess. Remember each mistake brings us closer to another success! There’s going to be variation, ups and downs, before you can see the slope increase overall.

the constraint of age

I was a strange kid. I felt this constant frustration when I was a child because I didn’t have to ability to do what I wanted to do, or to know what I wanted to know. I don’t mean staying up watching tv and eating ice cream for every meal, but wanting to have a job, travel, and be respected for my opinion. There is a huge, defining factor that looms above us throughout our entire lives, something that we rarely talk or think about: constraints from age. I don’t mean physical contraints, but social ones. Again, I was a strange kid, but I don’t think it’s uncommon at all for people of any age to desire respect.

The young are naive, the old are too stubborn to change. Young people should be happy and ambitious, old people should be wise and good teachers. There are both negative and positive stereotypes for most ages, but we are heavily strapped in by them on all sides. Talk to a 40 year old and they’ve already decided that they can’t change. They can’t learn or take risks, they’re too far gone. Talk to a 14 year old and try to understand the constant undermining of the validity of their emotions. Imagine, or recall the time when you had lots of emotions you couldn’t control, life is hard, and yet no one takes you seriously but you can’t complain because people chalk it up to your age. Think about people in their 80s and 90s, who have experienced so much and now have to deal with people treating them like babies not just physically, but emotionally too.

At certain ages, we need to be cared for physically. Still, our physical and our psychological situation do not always align. Children don’t have the experience to give advice like a 70 year old, but both deserve respect. Even if their opinion seems crazy or irrelevant, they might share something that can shed light on the situation. Or, maybe it is completely insane and useless, but it isn’t to that individual who desires communication and connection like the rest of us.

Ageism tells us that we are too young or too old to change. We can’t make a difference, we’ve not the experience or too much in that one area to make a revision now. But screw it, even if it seems ridiculous, you can always start living better. You can always do more than you think. The most important part is just taking the leap and going for the gold. Go for this! You can do it.

How to deal with the cold

The colder it gets outside, the more miserable we become inside. Although the holiday season is coming down the street, dealing with freezing rain and insufficient layering is its own spectacularly ghastly experience. At least so it is for me. However, I have insane friends who insist that the cold feels good, and that it helps them think. Even some who hate the cold like I can look past it to enjoy the season that’s coming up. With all this in mind, I would just like to use this variance of cold-sensitivity to bring up how we can become less of a jerk to others and ourselves.

Everyone has gone through different life experiences. You, as an individual, cannot accurately point to a stranger and say they are wrong for not reacting in the same way as you. A loud noise can be a mild irritant or it can prompt a horrible memory; it depends on the person. Culture, socioeconomic status, gender, sexuality, geographic origins: our demographics are important factors that can dramatically influence the way we view and act. Even if you and a stranger come from the same town, same neighborhood, have been through the same schools and had the same teachers, have the same skin color and religion, you are still going to be different because of genetics and family. We assume often that there is a lot of overlap between our lives. That may be true! However, when it comes to other people, patience and understanding can move mountains. The bottom line is that you don’t know everything there is to know about them, and judging them isn’t your place.

That being said– the person we know the best is ourselves. Nine times out of ten, we aren’t pushing ourselves to the best of our capacity. We either stress ourselves out overmuch or give too much leeway. We make ourselves miserable. Yes, the weather is very cold. The problem arises when we keep thinking about the cold, complaining about the cold, and make ourselves even colder than before. No human can tell you if you’re really doing your best besides you. In many cases, we have to learn to let go of our mistakes instead of rehashing them over and over again. We need to make mistakes, learn from them, and continue on. We need to be patient with ourselves, but also push forward.

The way we interact with others is important. Even if it’s small talk about the weather, we need to realize that some people become cold more easily than others. We also, however, need to realize when we’re complaining an excessive amount. We need to be patient with others and ourselves, and move past the difficulties into a solution.