Coding with Jesse

Trying to decide what to do next? Follow the light.

January 1st, 2023
A tree growing towards the light

Happy New Year! I've been trying to come up with a New Year's resolution, and it got me thinking about setting goals, finding and following your purpose, and how this ties into some books I read this year.

TL;DR: If you're trying to decide what to do next in your life, in which direction you should expand and grow, maybe it helps to think like a tree and go where the sunshine is.

The purpose of life

The most interesting book I read in 2022 was The Romance of Reality, where Bobby Azarian does an amazing job applying Darwinism to the universe.

He says that the universe itself is a self-organizing system, with a bias towards increasing order, complexity and awareness. The idea is that the process of evolution was around before life emerged. Life formed at the bottom of the ocean at thermal vents, where tremendous amounts of extreme heat energy met extreme coldness. Eventually, the first forms of life emerged here to capture that wasted energy and put it to use.

Fast forward to the present, and now we have complex life everywhere we look, actively consuming any and all food and energy available and using it to maintain the structures of our bodies, our systems and our species.

As lifeforms, humans are sentient agents of the universe whose purpose is to use our awareness and intelligence in order to optimise the conversion of available energy into complexity and order.

It's not hard to see how true this is. So much of what we do boils down to consuming energy (food, fuel, heat) so that we can create more order (clean homes, growing families, bigger cities, information, content creation). Pretty much every job is related either directly or tangentially to this process, or optimizing the process.

We've even dug towards the centre of the earth and the centre of the atom in order to unlock and consume more and more available energy and use it to create increasingly complex systems and structures.

So how do you fit into all this? And how can you use this perspective and knowledge to live a good life?

Following your dreams

I just finished reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It's a story about following your dreams. It's about a shepherd boy in Spain who dreams about finding treasure at the pyramids in Egypt. Following the guidance of those he meets along the way, he goes on a quest to literally follow his dream and see where it leads.

I've always liked stories about following your dreams. I've always tried to follow my own dreams. Once upon a time, I was stuck in the proverbial office job, and dreamed of the day I could be working from home, setting my own hours, choosing work I found interesting. I dreamed about buying a house, getting married and having children.

I followed those dreams, and soon started freelancing. Several years later, I bought a house, got married, and now have the family and life I'd always dreamed about.

So now I'm looking to the future, wondering where to go from here. There are so many possibilities that it's hard to focus and hard to decide.

Thinking like a tree

We're all in search of our potential. It's not just about finding happiness, but also finding activities that won't burn us out, that are sustainable in every sense of the word.

A tree will put more energy into the branches that get more sunshine, because opportunity creates a void that must be filled. Nature abhors a vacuum.

Thinking about our careers, interests and opportunities, it's as if we are trees with branches growing out in many directions, and we are trying to decide whether we should grow in this direction or that.

Like a tree, we can feel the energy coming from each branch to decide whether it's getting more sunshine or less. Sometimes this process is described as market research, trying to establish whether there is demand for a particular enterprise. Is it time to hire an employee? Or write a book? Or start a non-profit? Or teach? Or make a video game? Or take time off and travel? Or just hunker down and work harder doing the same things as ever?

Energy can take the form of light, or heat, or money, but also inspiration, joy, excitement and motivation. Which activities will give you a turbo boost and allow you to grow and expand further? Which are a dead end? You can also see which of your branches are already giving you more energy back. And you can expand carefully, incrementally, to get more feedback, to see if these directions are the right directions for you.

They need not expand forever in any given direction. Maybe there's a ton of energy available to move in the direction of, for example, publishing one small video game. But maybe that's also where it stops, and going all-in on video game development would be a terrible mistake. Or, maybe it opens up a new opportunity, one nobody could see or feel from here?

Follow the light

Follow your passions? What does that even mean? Instead, follow the light.

What is shining brightest to you right now? Where are your branches expanding to, and which of those branches are shouting "Go this way!!" Optimize for excitement. Learn how to convert some of that sunshine into food, by bringing joy to others (aka "providing value") such that others will be happy to give you sunshine tokens (aka "money") for the joy you bring.

If something excites you, it'll likely excite others. Because you do not live alone in a desert. If you can capture a bit of that sunshine out of the air, you can make it available to the whole world. And when you do, more energy will flow back from the world to you, as if to say "Yes, keep going!"

Follow the light. Capture excitement out of the air and share it with the world.

Why Not You?

December 9th, 2005

Steve Pavlina just wrote a wonderful piece, "Why Not You?". Like I wrote about a few days ago, I strongly feel that everyone is capable of doing anything. The problem is, nobody seems to know it. Steve addresses this, asking "Why not you" go out and fix the problems in the world that you see.

"It's too big," you say? It's supposed to be too big. Tackling challenges that are too big for you is what makes you grow as a human being. Why do you think this problem keeps coming up in your life, staring you in the face? Do you think you're supposed to ignore it and hide from it and wait for someone else to solve it for you? If you notice it, you own it.

I believe the Internet has made this even easier. It's easy to send off an email and talk to anyone, especially the "right" people. It's easy to put up a website to get support from people across the world. It's easy to find other people that share your goals. All this without leaving your bedroom!

So, think about this. Is there anything that you want changed in the world? If so, go change it!

P.S. Don't get Steve any widgets for Christmas!

Inspiration from Television?

December 6th, 2005

John at Success Begins Today just mentioned that he has put up some new inspirational articles. He writes:

Most people receive inspiration from people they see on television or hear on the radio.

I think this is sad..but probably true. I can't help but imagine millions of people sitting at home, watching TV, thinking "if only I could be rich and famous like that person". Personally, and lately, I get all my inspiration from reading stuff on the Internet. Now, I'm not being stuck up about different types of media. I realise I'm in the rare minority that rarely watches television and spends all my time on the Internet. And I think inspiration is wonderful no matter where it is found.

Nonetheless, television just represents a different world to me. I can't remember the last time I was inspired by people on television or radio. For some reason the phonyness of "celebrities" really turns me off; I never want to be a "celebrity". I have no interest in getting my 15 minutes of fame. And I don't feel the ability to entertain is some incredibly rare talent that should be held high above all other talents and abilities.

I like to see people who believe in a purpose or have seemingly impossible goals, and have focused on those goals over a long enough time that they have succeeded in one form or another. I like to read about how they started off the same as all of us, yet broke through and achieved great things. Sure, these people end up on television sometimes. Like John's example, sports heros can certainly be inspirational. But they are rarely referered to as "celebrities". The people that the television world chooses to "celebrate" are not the same ones I would choose to.

If you disagree, or if you feel I'm missing something, I'd love to hear your comments.

[Update: I've been mulling this over since I wrote the response, trying to determine what it is that frustrates me. I've decided I'm frustrated at the artificial divide that television seems to create. I am frustrated that millions of people think they could never achieve the things they see on tv; that only "experts" or "geniuses" can accomplish such things. And as a result, they don't even try.

I find the most inspiration when I'm reminded that everyone is capable of everything. I believe it's just a matter of attitude, including integrity, passion, devotion.

As John later mentioned, realism is very important. Both to keep plans realistic, but also being realistic with what is possible. I think most people put unrealistic limitations on their lives.]

Don't Quit Your Day Job

October 31st, 2005

For a long time now, since I was in high school, I've had an itch to start my own business. I've had many ideas, most based around the idea of a web design company. I've never followed any of them through though. I've always felt like I would in the near future, but it was never the right time.

Lately though, I've started to think about this a lot more. I guess I always need to have some kind of goal to look towards. Over the past year, a lot has happened. I moved from Canada to Germany. But now that the dust has settled, I guess I feel like I need to be doing something new. I need a challenge in my life, and the clearest way to do this seemed like starting my own business.

I say seemed because that was before I read the sex & cash theory. In a chapter of his excellent piece on How to be Creative, Hugh Macleod says, "The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the task in hand covers both bases, but not often. This tense duality will always play center stage. It will never be transcended."

This really struck a chord with me. I've often thought that starting my own business might be a bad idea. If I did, I wouldn't want to do the marketing. I would hate doing sales. I would want to get someone else to do the designs. I wouldn't mind doing management and support, but it would distract me from what I really love doing: developing software. So, then, what's so bad about being a software developer in a larger company?

Hugh made me realise that I could have the freedom to be creative in my spare time, while still being able to pay off my massive debt by working during the day. And it's not like my work is a bad place. It's a really interesting job and a great company too. I get to do exactly what I want to be doing. I might not have the sort of control I would have with my own business...but then again, if I had my own business I would have to do what clients wants most of the time (if I want to get paid!) So it's really the same situation.

By keeping my day job, I also don't have to worry about making money. If I had my own business, I'd have to find ways to make lots of money with my talents. By letting my day job take care of the steady flow of money, I can feel free to contribute to open source software, volunteer for organisations, or work on web sites with my mom and dad. I can do anything I want! Being self-employed, I wouldn't have this freedom because I would be trying to focus on paying the bills.

I feel a real desire to do something big with my life. I'm really excited about the potential of the Internet (ie., The Future of the Web :) and the ways it is beginning to grow and evolve. I love the way it is transcending hierarchy and reshaping the social structures of the human species. It has already changed so much and we can't even imagine what the impact will be a hundred years from now. I think being a software/web developer in this era might be the most exciting job in the most exciting time period ever.

But, I now realise that there are millions of ways to participate without starting my own business. I just want to be able to continue to work on exciting projects that let me push the envelope of web technologies and web application development. I leave the business-starting to those who are passionate about business, and I'll focus on doing what it is I'm passionate about.

How do you express your creativity and passions at work and at home, or is there even a distinction between the two for you?