The title of this post may be a little crude, but I can't think of a more concise way to describe how I really feel. I've spent the past few years letting this sink in, so I could better organize my thoughts and feelings around it before I started trying to articulate it to others (I'm sure I still have room for improvement). Growing up, I really tried to fit in to whatever group I was with, because a part of being human is that we're at least somewhat social animals, and a lot of what makes us human and our discovery of ourselves comes from connection with other people. Maybe my thoughts on this subject are the way they are because I'm still young and fairly able. The jury's still out on that. I have been trying to crystallize some of these thoughts in my head so I could articulate them to others, and this is my first attempt at that.
The disconnect I've felt from most circles I've been in stem primarily from two things:
- What fulfills me (and therefore what I spend time on, because I don't like spending more than a little time on things that don't fulfill me)
- The intensity and obsession with which I am willing to do things that are fulfilling
Let's break these two down further.
I'm most fulfilled by exerting myself to the greatest degree possible on learning, and using that learning toward working on problems that improve something in the world (loosely speaking). I am also fulfilled by maintaining a few close relationships in my life, but I'm generally a low-maintenance friend. I'm around more when things may not be going well, but generally not around when things are. I'm not the friend you're going to typically go have a beer with on a friday evening (I also don't drink and don't plan to, go figure). I've accepted that this is the kind of person I am, and am thankful to have friends in my life that are understanding of my boundaries and know what to expect from me.
I think the purpose of my life is to give every ounce of effort toward a core set of things that matter to me, and to leave absolutely nothing on the table. Life is pretty short, and even the most hardworking of people with intense effort toward singular goals are only able to change one or a few things in society at best. The most successful entrepreneurs, inventors, and builders that we can probably name in our heads right now may have only created meaningful change in a handful of areas, if any at all. Moving the needle is so freaking hard, and I can't imagine how you could do it unless you gave your mind, body, and soul to the endeavor.
So what are some of the consequences of this? I don't really have much of a social life, and don't prioritize that over most other things. It means that I can look more brooding and focused at times, and it means that I'm probably way less "fun" than most people are. My habits are also not usually the same or similar to those around me, which would make it difficult to live with a partner (if someone ever actually found someone like me attractive) unless they shared some of the same intensity or drive toward life. I've decided to own this tradeoff, instead of worrying for a long time about how I'd accommodate it. I've realized it's more important that I give my whole self to the things I feel I'm here to do, instead of wasting whatever potential I may have hoping for outcomes that may not happen or aren't under my control.
That's not to say that I think you should only be a machine, and not enjoy anything you do. I'm most motivated to put effort into things I actually enjoy, and/or feel like help me grow as a person. It's difficult for me to put a lot of effort into things I don't enjoy at all, or don't align with my actual interests/skills. I would have a hard time putting a lot of effort into something I know that I'm not the most effective at. That is, I want to exercise skills that I think allow me to make the most useful contributions. While that alignment of interests/skills/talents and continuous effort to discovering what you are capable of are still an essential ingredients, focus and consistency with the little time you have in this world to do anything worthwhile is important to be able to make meaningful progress through an endeavor.
When I was younger, I remember thinking that the world was genuinely built by really smart people. It is to some degree, don't get me wrong - If you look at a lot of our modern technology, trace back to where it came from, you may come to the conclusion that efforts from a relatively small number of people that kept tugging hard at a problem result in a lot of things we have. I thought that this clip a lot of people pass around from Steve Jobs, where he talks about how the world is really built by a lot of people no smarter than me, was an incorrect framing of the world. I've come to believe now that there's a ton of wasted potential in the world, and a lot of really smart people don't work on hard problems, and can also surprisingly easily waste their time believing in and driving "bad" ideas (not even counting the number of people with negative/selfish intentions who make things worse). It really takes all of us to put in our individual efforts to help improve things, and I feel a desire to do that even more strongly knowing that I've got a lot of opportunities in my life that many don't have. It feels wrong to not make the most of those opportunities to work toward things that enable progress, and instead waste my time on "life experiences" I'm apparently supposed to enjoy or spend a lot of effort obtaining.
Ultimately this comes from a place of optimism, that we can enable positive change in the world if we give it our best and most sincere effort. I don't necessarily share that same kind of optimism in all aspects of my life, but I know at the end of the day that I can use my mental and physical faculties to do something useful. Maybe it does turn out to be the case that nothing I do is ever really that useful, but I would like to look back and say that I did the best I could.