Looking back to look forward: What matters to me from my past

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Photo by matthew Feeney on Unsplash

Someone once said that the life flashing before your eyes is what really matters to you. So what really matters to me right now in this COVID-19 crisis? What will I remember about this time? I’m a thinker, so conceptualizing the lessons from this period of my life will take time. As a way to get me there, I am looking back on what formed me to this day. In each case, I’ll outline three things I learned and why they are relevant today.

Experimentation:

Until high school, I always ended up doing new things but didn’t know why. Why did I do certain things and not other things? Video games? I did that. Writing poetry? I didn’t do that. I could imagine myself writing poetry, but why didn’t I?

In my high school years, I started differentiating between the first step and the second step. I first imagined a world in which I did something as before. Next, I added step two: try that thing. I made active choices to expand my breadth of experience. I started out small, stepping a bit out of my comfort zone one inch at a time. Soon, my experimenting exploded into new experiences everywhere. I set myself on a track of openmindedness without limits.

I could imagine a world pranking band camp with my buddies. So, one step led to another by tricksters sneaking to the school overnight and rearranging the letters on a school sign to “GO SUCK COLON.”

Now, my goals span beyond one night of debauchery. I’m finding that there are many worlds in which I can imagine myself. Could I build that bookshelf? Yes, but it looks hard. Still, try it to see if you can. I still experiment today by imagining and then trying.

Learning how to socialize:

I was timid for most of my life until high school. Then, I finally found myself in certain social groups that were familiar. I could not navigate a classroom or gymnasium full of random people. But I started seeing the same teammates on sports teams and pushing ourselves through pain for dozens of hours every week. I opened myself up to them and formed the strongest friendships.

The way to socialize in new situations came down finding familiarity in new situations: new people, new places, new conversation topics. The way I succeed is by latching onto the things I find familiar, finding comfort in that feeling, and then opening myself up to the newness around me. Certainly, the way to succeed is to recollect myself in the familiar but not to stay there, because that’s boring to others.

  • Colleague I know in a group of strangers? When in doubt, comment on a shared memory.
  • New place but something looks the same? When in doubt, comment on what it reminds me of.
  • New topic? Learn it to satisfy my curiosity with the purpose to incorporate it into my worldview. Then share my own experience when I can segue the topic to something similar.

Self-confidence:

One day the librarian threatened to kick me out of the library before class started because I was not working. As a way to impress my friends there, I turned to the closest bookshelf, picked the first book that caught my attention, and set it down on the table. “I’m reading.”

Luck had it that I chose a bright red paperback copy of Engels’ and Marx’s The Communist Manifesto.

For the following few weeks, I walked around with that book in my backpack, fully owning it. Just before I entered the library each day, I pulled the book out of my bag and held it out to walk past the librarian’s front desk.

During those weeks I learned that self-confidence comes from ownership. I fully owned my choice to be reading The Communist Manifesto and even got into debates with the librarian about its ideas. With every interaction, I gained confidence.

Thus, my Confidence Manifesto is taking and fully owning the choices I make. Confidence could be based on experience or could be based on delusion, or many other things. But I learned that confidence is a choice that is within my power: more specifically, a series of choices that align my actions together into a common thread.

Today, I actively base my confidence in relevant experience rather than randomness. I am more certain of my ability to drive a car than a plane. But should I somehow wake up as the pilot of a plane careening toward the earth and everyone is trembling in fear, I have two choices. Tremble, letting fear drown me. Or, have some confidence and try my best to fly the thing and maybe succeed.

Summary

Things may be new right now. But I can imagine myself surviving like this. So watch I Am Legend and let’s try it.

Everything may feel different. Latch onto familiarity to enter the chaos.

The librarian is kicking us out. Grab a book and let’s dive in.

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