Many people say to follow your passion. But how far?
I don’t think everyone is meant to follow their passion to its conclusion. Instead, we often need to do things that we don’t enjoy or that wouldn’t be our first choice. I don’t think anyone sets out to try to clean toilets as their primary job.
But that’s ok! Because you can use your passions creatively in many types of work. And these skills can be invaluable in that other line of work.
For example, I love coaching. But my job title does not say “coach.” Instead, I use coaching methods in my work. I market myself as a software consultant and account manager with coaching skills. As a result, this coaching makes our team more effective.
I also enjoy music. But I don’t make my primary occupation about creating or listening to music. Instead, I do employ artistic methods in my work.
For example, in a proposal, I include musical elements in the structure to make it flow. Similar to a song, the presentation builds with verses as supporting evidence into a repeating chorus as the main argument. These ideas work in harmony, just like in music.
So, if you like coaching or music, you can pursue those as primary passions. But remember that these skills are invaluable in other areas of work that you wouldn’t think of!
In Plato’s The Symposium that we read for the Online Great Books seminar, ancient Greek partygoers choose not to drink the night away, again (text is translated by Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff). Instead, these philosophers and tragedians and comedians have a friendly competition: everyone gives their own praise of love. But whose idea of love is true?
After hearing from five others, Socrates goes last. Though his explanations are usually complicated, his praise of love seems most rooted in truth and reality.
DISCLAIMER: I am no Plato scholar. This interpretation is compelling and is open to debate. And also, note that normal intimate relations in ancient Greece look a bit different than today.
Here is a summary of the six speeches, each of which builds on ideas as they respond to the previous speaker:
According to Phaedrus, there is one type of love, which is virtuous and good.
According to Pausanias, there are two types of love: good since it aims to obtain virtuous, soulful things. But the other kind of love is bad since it is shallow, bodily, and uncommitted.
According to Eryximachus, love is the balance and harmony between bad and good love. The virtue of love depends on how the lover controls the direction of love.
According to Aristophanes, love is the desire by one half to its missing other half. Humans were split from one being into two parts. And love is the force driving one to find its counterpart.
According to Agathon, love is simply the best of all good things, including young, delicate, just, moderate, and brave.
According to Socrates, love is a spirit that compels us on a journey to produce immortality by appreciating higher levels of beauty. The lowest level of love is for one beautiful body. The quest for immortality here results in human children. Then the smart person will grow that love of one body into all beautiful bodies. This love grows into a love of beautiful souls, then beautiful customs and activities, then beautiful knowledge. At this stage, the quest for immortality combines the person with beautiful knowledge into birthing good ideas. The highest level is an appreciation of Beauty in its pure form, the essence without grounding in time, space, or example. A person attains the highest level of love and immortality by beholding Beauty and birthing true virtue.
After Socrates’s speech, Alcibiades, the comedian, comes in, drunk from partying. He squeezes himself between Socrates and Agathon as they were flirting. He tells a story that serves as proof to which to test the accuracy of the love speeches.
Alcibiades describes the love that overcame him for handsome Socrates, which became lust for body and power. Socrates rebuffed the attempts until he explained the Alcibiades’s beauty wasn’t enough for Socrates’s offer and pursuit of pure wisdom. He admitted his love to Alcibiades, but Socrates didn’t give in to any seductive advances. Now, Alcibiades often erupts in a jealous rage while still lusting for Socrates’s good looks. But Alcibiades has learned to respect Socrates’s natural character, moderation, and fortitude. He also appreciates Socrates’s ideas and knowledge as the best way to become good.
This story makes sense. Assuming the story is true, let’s put it through the six ideas of love:
Phaedrus’s love is not true because Alcibiades’s love changed forms.
Pausanias’s love is not true because Alcibiades maintained two types of love at once.
Eryximachus’s love is not true because Alcibiades was not in control of the direction of his love.
Aristophanes’s love is not true because Alcibiades and Socrates had a love for each other, but the drives were not compatible as expected from two halves meeting.
Agathon’s love is not true because Alcibiades’s love drives him to appreciate something better than love itself.
Socrates’s love makes the most sense. Alcibiades started with love aimed at Socrates’s good looks. But he then climbed the ladder of love to now appreciate higher levels of beauty: Socrates’s soul and knowledge. Alcibiades’s love itself was not good, but it compelled him on a path to enjoy pure Beauty and produce the good.
Alcibiades puts is best:
If you were to listen to his arguments, at first they’d strike you as totally ridiculous… If you are foolish, or simply unfamiliar with him, you’d find it impossible not to laugh at this arguments. But if you see them when they open up… if you go behind their surface, you’ll realize that no other arguments make any sense. They’re truly worthy of a god, bursting with figures of virtue inside. They’re of great–no, of the greatest–importance fo anyone who wants to become a truly good man.
The Symposium, p. 503
The Symposium is a masterful story rich with profound ideas. But only Socrates’s concept of love emerges as the victor in the battle for truth.
When I graduated from school, I had no clue what my occupation would be. I spent six months applying to 30+ jobs in software before getting one interview.
While I was applying, I worked part time as a waiter at a local restaurant. I learned some valuable things there:
1. A transaction is an exchange of value, but value comes in many forms. In a restaurant, a customer pays for more than food. They pay to relax. They pay to choose what they want. Or, they pay to not need to choose. They pay to feel empowered. This lesson is important because I am now more open-minded about why people pay for things. People don’t just pay for a widget. They get value from how that widget makes them feel.
2. Empathy leads to a glass half full perspective. Opening my first wine bottle at a table was the most nerve-wracking thing ever. My hands shook as I spilled wine on the table. Another time, I tripped while walking a tray of water glasses out to the patio. The whole thing drenched a man with his kids. But in both cases, instead of responding with anger, the customers gave empathy. They were patient and understanding. They didn’t dig their nails into the obvious mistake I had made. I actually ended up having nicer, longer conversations with them. On the other hand, there were other customers who found any tiny thing about which to complain. They treated me like a servant to deliver their messages to the kitchen and get some free meals. These people went in with negativity and dragged everyone through the mud to fill their agenda. These people were simply forgettable.
3. The boss sets the tone in a business. The general manager dictated the sentiment of the employees. When he cracked open a bottle of scotch to celebrate after a busy Saturday, the mood was high. When he snapped at waiters for their mistakes, everyone else got tense and bickered at each other. The engine driving us to work came from the culture we shared. This culture came from mostly the tone of the boss.
In the end, restaurant work was not for me. I ended up working at another restaurant part time a few years later, which took my learnings to a whole different level.
In August, 2018, I realized that I need to do a better job keeping in touch with colleagues: both my friends and professionals. I listened to a podcast Manager/Career Tools about networking and decided to use some tools to help me network, instead of just letting luck and vicinity dictate who I talk to.
I set recurring reminders on my calendar to keep in touch with folks every few months. When I get the reminder, I send out a message. Or if I delay, I just shift around the event or push it back. Of course I leave spontaneity open; if I end up talking to someone prior to their next reminder, I just shift the following reminders to start from there.
This works for both personal and professional networks. I often add new people to the list to keep in touch. I also write down people’s birthdays when I hear them. It’s nice to receive a birthday wish nowadays. I can’t rely on Facebook for birthdays anymore, since my generation uses Facebook less.
Staying in touch with friends is great. Our lives are so busy all the time. But I hate that word “busy”. We have so much stress and urgency from the immediate surroundings that we don’t step back and consider the non-urgent, meaningful things.
Set a recurring reminder and reach out. They’ll appreciate the thought.
I traveled through Europe and Asia after graduating from college. I visited Sweden, Ireland, England, then Denmark. I wanted to continue south and east, but a family matter brought me back to the US. I had earned some money and received a graduation gift to travel from my grandmother. After arriving home, I had some money left over. So, I went to China for five weeks, then Thailand for two more weeks.
Traveling was AWESOME. I felt full of creativity, energy, and drive. Going in, all I wanted was to find an epiphany about my purpose in life. Instead, I learned three lessons:
1. There is no epiphany
Nothing came to me in a dream telling me how to live my life. Instead, I decided I must build upon experiences, step by step. Staying open and hungry will allow me to form myself into what I’m meant to be. Deciding what to do without a guide is the longer, harder, but more meaningful road than following a pre-determined path.
2. We are more similar than we are different
Throughout my travels, I met so many amazing people. I could easily communicate with most, but with some there was a language barrier making it harder. But I still made a variety of friends. One of the most meaningful experiences was befriending a man visiting the Terracotta Warriors outside of Xi’an, China. He spoke no English, and I spoke no Chinese. Typically, I would avoid him because understanding each other would be too difficult. But somehow we gestured and smiled our way through the entire museum tour together. We ended up having lunch together after. He showed me pictures of his daughter. I showed him pictures of my family. It was deeply meaningful. I cherish that memory.
3. I yearn to learn new things
When I put myself into an environment without a plan, I found out what I value. Each day is a blank slate, ready for any possibility. I realized that I love to walk and explore, rather than skipping to a destination. I explored back alleys, met up with strangers, and climbed mountains. I downed a fifth while watching fishermen clean their catches in Wuhan, China. I cheered on a hurling match in Cork, Ireland. I created my own log-lifting and rock-carrying workouts in Öland, Sweden. I biked for hours and watched the planes take off in Copenhagen, Denmark. Every moment brought myself closer to living the present and realizing that I love to encounter the unknown.
Here’s the full list of my notes from Europe:
There are free salad bars at many restaurants.
Carbonated water and coca cola rule the beverage industry.
Swedes tend to be less pious (with exceptions), and the family I stayed with had not as much knowledge about Christianity (of which I realized I had ample knowledge).
The school system is free.
The political parties are much “lefter” than American parties. The two big coalitions are the conservative liberals (incumbent) and the social democrats.
Aside: I have now deemed “Swedish workouts” all workouts involving only large rocks or logs.
There are a ton of bikes and clearly marked bike lanes. Very few helmets. Even saw a girl with high heels biking in Stockholm.
The only place from which one may purchase alcohol over ~4% alcohol is a government merchant store named “System Bolaget.” One must be 16 to drink beer and 18 for wine and spirits, and must be 20 to buy alcohol.
There are two major supermarket chains (ICA owns about 50% of supermarket market) and COOP, and there are only a few others.
There are potatoes or potato products with practically every meal.
There aren’t many police officers patrolling around. On the other hand, there are more public cameras.
Similarly, I never saw an officer on the road with a speed gun, but there are speed cameras with conspicuous signs indicating their presence and admonishing drivers.
Kids learn English in school starting in the first few years.
It rains a lot.
Swedish people are generally really attractive.
There are many more VWs, Volvox, Audis, and Mercedes Benzes, for whatever reason.
Public transit is fantastic. The trains better shield outside noise.
There is public land in the non-cities. This should not be confused with the type of land that a government or corporation owns but is named “public.” This legitimately public land is just land, and sometimes cattle range throughout these areas that are surrounded by electrical fence and gates openable with opposable thumbs.
Öland looks like the child of Kansas and Maine. Alternately, it looks like what I imagined Rohan would look like.
Alcohol has much less of a negative or sensitive cultural stigma.
There are Blood Donating centers ubiquitously located throughout Stockholm and in higher-populated towns.
Stockholm beggars are predominant Old Romanian ladies.
Swearing is allowed on the radio. English swears are generally uncensored, from what I noticed.
There is less censorship. Shops and pictures show nudity, and sex shops are not veiled from prying streetside eyes.
Many simple services are automatic. That’s not unique to Sweden of course, but I’ve never bought movie tickets from a self-service machine at the theater before.
Many things throughout Stockholm’s history have burnt down and been rebuilt.
People in Stockholm walk slower than those in most American cities.
Many of the statues in Stockholm are stylistically Greek. Some depict Greek and Roman figures.
There is a seemingly universally Swedish vocal expression: A sharp inhale “huh” (onomatopoeia) meaning “yeah” or “okay.”
Tivoli- both Stockholm and Copenhagen have an amusement/theme park inside the city. And they’re amazing. We went to Copenhagen Tivoli, though.
There’s no law prohibiting open containers of alcohol in public areas.
Anyone may walk through the palace square.
People drive on the left (a revelation).
London is noticeably diverse.
Speaker’s Corner at the northeast corner of Hyde Park. Anyone can speak openly here, and listeners and hecklers alike come to browse, behold, and engage in verbal intercourse with the orators. Most of the conversation is passionate, radical, eloquent, and intellectual. True Sophists and Socratics at work. I more enjoyed the pure awe I felt at the power of rhetoric than the content of the speeches. Such social dynamics were incredibly entertaining to witness. I asked one soap-box about overpopulation and he took the conversation on a magical journey of speech and language. It was amazing. I almost missed my flight because I was so enamored with a scene of a proclaimed fascist dressed in purchased military garb with a Hitler mustache arguing in support of state, institution, and racism. But it was more than that. It was a beautiful argument. And other speakers entered the fray, making both form and content of the discussion so rich and complex…
Pubs all last names
Rains all the time
Live music and drinks all day served in Temple Bar
The Irish are a hard people- stoic. A hard-working people. Those with experience, who can bear the load.
Music is usually covers of popular songs. Generally in an Irish rock style.
Green plots of land, rock walls, rock buildings, cows, sheep, horses, vines, rolling hills, mountains in the distance…it’s beautiful.
Want a pint custom
Narrow roads in city, or wide
12 point system of speeding
Police known as the Garda or Gardi
Off License stores sell alcohol
Lashing = pouring
Crack = good time (gonna be a crack)
Mad = crazy
Boot = back of the car
Cheers while looking at one another in the eyes
Everyone waves and greets
Something about Irish music. From Doolin.
Elbow pipe, strings, songs about work and hardship
Irish time, Irish distance.
Many local, old traditions! Pilgrimage, goat worship… Etc
Irish sports are HUGE: GAA big organization keeping Gaelic and community alive- Irish football, Hurling, Soccer, Rugby
Signs signifying space or fullness of parking lots way prior to the lot
Paddy at the hosel talk… Ireland was very religious until the 1980s. Britain counterpart, Gaelic, Boston Irish/Italian, religious still (Catholic)
St Patrick didn’t bring Christianity, he brought Rome to Ireland. Christianity was in Ireland 200 years prior.
Everyone celebrates St. Patty’s day!
Ireland is a country searching for its identity. It has typically championed everything non-British, but now, what do they have?
Everyone knows where the best pubs are. And the music!
Ireland- pay 20 cents to use bathroom at bus station???
Ireland is closer culturally to countries like Spain and Italy because of the Atlantic winds and boat travels
All of Ireland: cars will be “clamped” = towed?
Belfast (could be most Europe): Street signs on buildings only
Parking on the sidewalk in the burbs
Humps for ___ mile
Picture of deadend: “T”
Northern Ireland still going through conflict about being in the UK. Streets in Belfast separated by a peace wall. Loyalists vs Republicans. Last attack in 1997 after a truce. Any small thing could set it off.
Scouse is the type of person from Liverpool- hard to understand.
Beatles shit everywhere- milking it
Vegetables is “salad”
Football is HUGE here
Young people in Liverpool- 3 big universities
Won cultural capital of the world 2008
Won ugliest building built in 2009
Shipping is huge
Liver is the city bird, but doesn’t exist
Titanic built here or Belfast?
Merchants contributed to slave trade
Liverpool has been the key to the Atlantic
Way more socialism here and Australia
People wait for crossing signals
Scotland is voting for independence on the 18th of September
There are more sheep than people
Requirements for a town to become a city: cathedral and university
Biking in Copenhagen is the most fun ever. So nice
Copenhagen metro is unmanned, automated! Every 4 minutes. And recently opened.
Metro – clipcards for zonage, or “check ins”, and metro police and fines (risk but worth the card?)
New bike bridge
Polite but free and open people
Laws are VERY liberal. Open containers, pee anywhere (but decently)
I learned about an effective way to map out the future by looking into the past from my colleague, Dave Kerwar (thank you!). I’m a nomad, there’s excitement in not knowing the road ahead. But I need to set goals or else I’ll wander off somewhere I don’t want to be.
When we moved two years ago to a new city and a new job, I had no idea what to expect. But if I could pinpoint where I was now, I could map one step ahead to where I wanted to be. Doing so would enable me to use this new opportunity to help me get there.
So, I thought to myself, what have I learned at every stage of my life? At Hamilton College, I learned:
1. How to question assumptions
I talked to many fascinating people about complex topics: journeys, presentness, perspective, pain, spirit, and world. I had to think hard to keep up with smarter people. One-on-one conversations were the best. Like many other conversations, spending hours with a friend questioning the legitimacy of things we take for granted caused me to see the world in a fresh way. I walked home and saw new life in everything around me. Does that tree exist before I notice it? What does that mean about myself? I followed these threads, dove into deep ideas, and practiced questioning everything.
2. How to use logic
I majored in Mathematics and Philosophy, the combination of which I view as logic. In Math we spent most of our time assuming stuff and using those things to prove other stuff. In Philosophy, I learned how we can and should assume anything, because everything should be questioned. I play with assumptions, prove more things, and see what happens. For example, let’s assume that I have free will, even if everything appears deterministic. As a result, I gain confidence in taking responsibility. That’s a good result. Free will may be an illusion, but it could be a beneficial one. As a result of this practice, I can better use logic to question and seek truth in ideas.
3. The power of a team
I rowed on the Crew team. We would sweat and bleed together. Individuals would fight and disagree, but we all worked toward winning together. In some moments, I truly felt that our team achieved something greater than the sum of our individuals. There’s an experience in rowing when all rowers are perfectly in sync: the boat starts floating on top of the water and every ounce of effort compounds into more and more speed. This is the rower’s version of nirvana. We achieved that heavenly state only a few seconds in all four years. By living this, I know that a team can accomplish superhumanly things by working toward a common goal.
I can eat hummus with chips or dip or straight from the tub. I love it. I feel like I’m willingly taking on a master whenever we buy hummus.
Hummus is my weakness. I can’t resist it. I could eat it all in one sitting.
While I’m thankful that my addiction isn’t to sugary sweets or tobacco or something more destructive, any addiction is a risky thing.
I’ve been experimenting with putting barriers in front of things that are too easy to enjoy. As a result, I have to work harder to get that entertainment. For example, I recently deleted Instagram from my phone. So, if I want to browse Instagram, I have to spend 60 extra seconds downloading the app, logging in, and loading it up again. I really need to want it to spend those precious seconds waiting.
This simple action has reduced my time on Instagram time by more than 99% last month. That’s a lot of time I get back to spend on other things.
However, the other things filling the space aren’t all great. For example, my YouTube usage rose last month. However, it’s hard to get rid of it since I still spend some valuable time learning in addition to mindless enjoyment.
Maybe YouTube will be next to go. Hummus can stay another day…
It’s been a few weeks since I posted. I was planning a post about finding the right activity to fill 10 minutes of spare time in between activities, work, etc. 10 minutes is too short to dive into a deep activity, but too long to sit there and wait for the next one. How fascinating: trying to fill the time? You know you should read or meditate or walk but typically you just browse Instagram or Youtube or some other mindless filler. What a predicament.
On September 2nd, 2020, my grandmother died unexpectedly. We were close. It’s been a rough time for my family, but we’re doing ok. Nanita was 80 years strong. We just expected more time from her because she was so energetic, compassionate, and generous with her love. It was too soon. There are too many unanswered questions.
She was living alone and finally called for an ambulance after being in pain for days without eating. 10 minutes after arriving to the hospital, she had her first heart attack. They induced her into a coma. The next day, she suffered her second heart attack and last breaths. Officially, she died of sepsis and colitis.
Fuck. She had 10 minutes from arriving to the hospital until her first heart attack, putting her out of consciousness and into a coma from which she never woke.
So, if you had 10 minutes, what would you do?
This is a tough one for me, because I’m notoriously long-sighted. I’m a firm believer in living like you would live forever, until you don’t. It’s a balance between life and death.
When I imagine dying, I imagine two scenarios. One, I get killed instantly in some horrifying accident; or I get so destructively maimed that I’m a goner for sure. Second, I get cancer and realize I have a limited time on earth: but in months or years or weeks.
But… fuck, 10 minutes?
What if someone said you would die in 10 minutes? What a brutal amount of time. I could only hope to be so strong as to handle that news.
I would freak the fuck out for a while. Then I hope I would settle myself:
In minute 5, I would thank my family and friends for being so unconditionally loving.
Copy that for minute 6.
In minute 7, I would reflect on my experiences in life that really mattered. Those crazy, mind-blowing things. The things that made me breathe deep breaths. The things that reminded me how real I am.
In minute 8, I would thank God for giving me the opportunity to live a life as someone so fortunate and lucky with so much love.
In the 9th and last minute, I would embrace the pain and impending darkness head-on. I would do my best to push for my next state of being with hope, falling into chaos
The air smelled of anarchy and new beginnings. We watched the burning smoke from rooftops. Everyone talked about the same thing. Eyes glued to social media. The motorcycles and trucks on the distant highway revved their engines with a guttural roar. The police were on defense. They wouldn’t answer if we called.
George Floyd was killed, and we were at the epicenter of the aftermath.
We were confident in our belief, but unsure about the future. Like a hero sneaking through a thick forest brush, we crept into a different world. Nervous, excited, nauseated. Time moved slowly. We have something rotten inside us, and we were finally burning it out.
I didn’t participate in the protesting. We were hesitant to leave our house.
There were good protesters and good cops, both working together within the confines of our structures. There were also stupid people on both sides, escalating issues and causing unnecessary trouble.
Eventually, we helped clean up the streets during the day while protests continued at night. I didn’t condemn the burning. After all, something had to give. But I mourned the collateral losses of the innocent.
I live in the exhausted majority. I don’t back my full weight behind either wing of the United States socio-political arena. My beliefs are fluid and depend on the situation and the context. I don’t align my beliefs with either of the political poles. Here’s what I know:
I believe that we discriminate unfairly in our culture, especially against people of color through racism. I believe that police have the responsibility to de-escalate tense situations without lethal force. I believe in peaceful protest to demand change.
I believe in the good of people.
I believe that police who protect and serve are pivotal and respectable in our society. I believe that criminals take advantage of police de-escalation tactics to get out of justice. I believe that burning and looting property is not a peaceful protest.
So, on the issue on police brutality, I can’t pick a side. I’m exhausted of thinking that we have to pick one. I hear both sides with valid arguments but not every situation fits the same narrative.
It’s ok to not decide on these types of complex issues. They involve multiple steps that we can rarely agree on by themselves: where we are, where we want to go, and how to get there. All three factors are open to deep debate. We must be flexible to work toward the answer. The effective resolution will be a mix, including the best ideas from a diverse set of perspectives.
For a few months before, I had begun to explore the Bible with fresh eyes. But up until that day, God and religion were still intellectual pursuits. That changed in one day.
As part of the service, hundreds in the massive auditorium started praying together: some silently, some aloud. We were sitting, packed to other in the middle of the room. A few people cried out to God, sobbing, reciting lines, asking for forgiveness, and thanking him for his grace. I held my Bible in my hands and closed my eyes. I focused on my prayer.
Then two things happened.
I perceived my Bible grow in width in between my hands. The book seemed to expand between my hands, even though separately my arms felt in the same location. The book was expanding right and left, like into a different dimension. It was filling the space with unimaginable depth. I felt the importance of these words.
Second, my mind began to grow distant from my surroundings. I was falling backwards from reality. I perceived myself slip further away. A great distance was opening between the edge of my senses to where I was. The chasm grew in depth and weight to a point to which I could not measure it. I began to lose touch with my senses and reality opened up to me within myself.
With my eyes closed, I saw a vision of a light blue wire connecting from the top of my spine upwards. It curved up hundreds of feet and forward into a great presence, a light, a cloud, something up there. I saw many other blue wires connecting to that top point from everyone else worshiping in the room.
In both cases, I felt warm and filled with purpose. I wasn’t afraid… not exactly. I was awe-struck; filled with wonder at these two parts of my experience. Eventually, I arose back into reality with a fresh respect for life.
These visions and experiences were as original as I can guess. It’s hard for me to explain where I may have gotten the “inspiration” or been “imprinted” by them. So, as much as I can tell, I had a legitimate, lucid, spiritual experience. In my own way, I was touched by God.
After that day, my spirituality shifted from an intellectual exercise to a fundamental life journey.