Reflection on my 23rd year of life and plans for the 24th

My 23rd year was an important one. Some people may remember that I had a bit of a quarter-life crisis starting in summer 2013. I realized I didn’t care about my research project and I had a general feeling that by studying engineering after high school I had initiated a career path with good job security but very little personal satisfaction and no chance of making significant positive contributions to society.

I decided to see a counselor for this and other issues in my life at the time, which turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. In one of our last sessions, my counselor happened to mention something that was a catalyst for much of the recent positive change in my life – the UW Farm.

At first I liked the farm because I had an excuse to be out of my office during the great summer weather and I got a ton of produce for free. But slowly it has become one of the most important communities I am a part of. So many wonderful people have come into my life through the farm. Many of them share passions of mine that I hadn’t been able to share with my other friends.

Through the farm, I found out about more avenues that were available to explore and contribute to issues I cared about, however I still wasn’t happy with my work in computer science and engineering. But this spring, I had the good fortune of taking a human-computer interaction class with Alan Borning, who has given me hope that I can do some good in the world with computer science. I am very much enjoying doing web design work with the CarbonWA campaign for my current project.

The final major bit of change I’ve experienced has been in my understanding of the privileged position I hold in society. This has been a both a relief and a source of great sadness and personal regret.

Oddly enough, I have been relieved to realize that I am where I am now largely due to the fact that I am a straight white male American with no financial problems. At many times in my life I have been told that I am smart, and I have won various awards and scholarships for things, but I never felt like I was especially smart and I don’t feel like I deserved many of these awards. A previous advisor of mine once told me that I got an award purely because of my presentation skills, not because of any great effort on the actual work. It is comforting to have an explanation for this discrepancy. Much of my life has been a quest to become more intelligent in the conventional Western industrial sense of intelligence in order to try to live up to people’s expectations, and possibly make up for my previous mediocre work. I wanted to learn more math and science and become a logical wizard who could figure out the most puzzling technical puzzles. These are important areas to improve in, but I now feel that I don’t have to be extremely smart to do good work and it is more beneficial for me to analyze the world and figure out what changes need to be made and how I can help them happen with what I already have.

On the other hand, knowing more about systems of injustice has made me realize some regrettable things that I have done in the past and ways in which I have acted inappropriately with people who I should have had more respect for as fellow human beings. I wish I could redo several parts of my life, but I can only hope that I will be better in the future.

I’ve already experienced some major changes in the first few hours of my 24th year. I have moved out of the house I was living in for the past two years and into Sherwood Cooperative. So far the people (and chickens!) I’ve met here have been very friendly and I’m excited to see what joys and challenges this new living experience will provide.

I have a few goals for this year in order to continue my personal growth:

  1. Become better at talking and connecting with people and be less awkward
  2. Become more deeply involved with campaigns for justice and sustainability at UW and in Seattle
  3. Notice and prevent stress during the school year so I don’t burn out at the end of each quarter like in the past
  4. Improve my physical health by getting treatment for chronic wrist and leg pains, and by exercising regularly and paying attention to my body more closely to prevent injury
  5. Write blog posts regularly on contemporary issues that I care about
  6. Practice steel tongue drum regularly