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ambition (in my 30s)

i ponder this a little;

a loss of ambition

at some point during grad school, as I taught — I started to place my hope in the young ‘uns. it was just easier to let go of my own struggle.

that they, the high schoolers, the undergraduates, could carry the fight and change the world. and that i could rest.

year-by-year i existed in a temporary state of getting past the current hurdle to a “promised future.” if i could just persevere for a year or two. over a decade of this, gradually the world ground me down and changed me. 

in the past i dreamed of making the world a better place at scale through my own startup. i dreamed of living in different countries and learning different languages. i felt ambitious and filled with a sense of possibility and hope about the future.

now i dream of stability; of having money like some of my friends, of my parents being healthy and being worry-free, of my friends doing well, of forming a solid partnership, of giving back to my support network, of thinking of myself as an adult with my paperwork and chores, of starting a family. i feel adrift from my high school me.

now my ambition is my own contentment

from that high school era i mostly remember the angst, and the struggle, the anger and the fear. to make meaning of all that emotional chaos, i focused on the easy tie-ins of my life to wider societal problems. the parts that we analyze for school applications, for diversity statements, for mentoring.

i have done this. it is possible.

on loop i thought about what i wanted to change. my identity became: someone who perseveres.

which necessitates focusing on the bad parts that i overcame. in 2024, in practicing gratitude, i have constantly thought: i’m grateful that i am where i am now. i’m grateful that i’m doing so much better than past me. here are all the ways i’m doing better.

but that also means i rarely revisit the memories that were good. 

what memories have i lost? what were the bright points in my past? how do i relax, truly? i wandered through craft kits and could not figure out how to personalize the idea of relaxing. [2] 

because  i was always too scared to feel the past. yet now i have the skills. i can immerse myself in the past without reliving the negative emotions. and that by speaking the emotions (i activate my human brain and suppress my lizard brain) i gain power over them. [3]

and then i can excavate: what parts of me from the past to bring forward into the present. [1] that’s what finding “five childhood activities i could loose myself in” requires.

contentment: working on projects that make other people laugh (make magazine style). a hardware component. that inspires others. not arts and crafts alone. that brings me joy right now. forget my long todo list of old projects, bring on new ones.

forget the yoga and taichi to feel better, the volunteering to feel a sense of community, the todo list of finding a therapist, the social work of keeping in touch with friends, the sense of guilt about learning to cook and eat better and spend money on food.

and flowers. i lost time weeding; i still lose time weeding. i spend money on flowers now.

the book [2] asks to come up with three more childhood activities: i can’t. but i will be one day.

a sense of time

i fear in my heart that my change in ambitions could become permanent. i always feared this: the story of the roman emperor who stopped conquering once he got married and started a family.

but i think also that precisely because of that, i will work to make sure it’s a temporary state. that i have seen some of these cycles in myself: i could not motivate myself to cook for a long time, but i can again now. i did not sail at all for years, and then i did. so too i think that my ambition will return. [4]


[1] notably, while showering yesterday i listened to staph retreat by radiolab. spoiler: it’s about how something from the distant past (antibiotic formula) can be powerful in the present day. not a linear progress. but a coming and going as life adapts.


[2] i checked out the five resets from the library. in one section she asks a terminally ill patient to remember what childhood activities brought joy and you could lose time in. (she focuses a lot on the idea of taking the knowledge we all know — exercise is good, etc. — and strategies that make it possible to actually implement. not the gym; but a twenty minute walk. and the science why these small changes can work better than big changes)

[3] a surprisingly cool tool when talking to others: (the old color scheme is better). note that i think in reality it can be more complicated. todo: wheels that spin. can you be an angry and vulnerable kind of hopeful?

[4] as a high schooler i read paul graham. i forget anything about what he wrote now. but i revisited recently (reflecting on how the idea of creating my own job comes as easy as breathing for me: what is something that i want to solve in my own life? how can i solve it for tothers? but is unnatural for others) and he has one on kids


“student lying on desk with graduation cap covering face , exhausted , with ghost, manga style” – picture made with GIMP waterpixels and google image fx . yes i post-processed it because it had the freaky finger AI art bug XD;

cute pictures of my cat

i have not blogged in some time, i feel like there are many things i wish to talk about but they can be quite heavy

so to re-start the process, i will instead start with an easier topic

cute pictures of my cat

these have both been cleaned up using the unblur and camoflauge features on the pixel phone, so as to remove some of the distracting background clutter (eheh). the ML models really couldn’t handle removing the purses on the first photo above, which, valid lol.

on the latter photo there was also a portrait blur effect applied. i find it pretty interesting — i’m fairly certain that machine learning models are being used to infer a. what to segment out and remove (this is directly shown to the user as a confirmation of sorts) b. what to fill in.

my cat rosie is now 11 years old, i adopted her during the pandemic when she was 8.

happy new years! here’s to 2024

off to a good start !

(first night boston — fireworks at 7pm i actually made it to, and an ice skating event at 6pm. well technically this was a good end of 2023 rather than the happy start of 2024, but it’s a good celebratory picture)

some misc. thoughts in my head:

when i was 20 i thought i would be too depressed to live to 30

now that i’m 30 i’m worrying about: what if i become deaf and blind at 90, should I start taking braille classes just in case

in any case, listening to being mortal on audiobook — good book. like it a lot. feel optimistic about the future of nursing homes. easy read since i’m pretty young (compared to 90 or 110). liked the ideas about having pets and children to bring a sense of life, having lockable doors and suites of 16 rather than floors of 60 people, to make nursing homes into actual homes. instead of penitentiaries with institutional schedules. integrating the elders with the education of the kids (learning history from the people who went through it). the philosophy about what gives life meaning, the psychology between our desires (for growth and ideas) when we think we have many decades vs. when our perspective is shorter (for family and connection). chapter 6 started getting depressing because it’s about people my age so i’m stopped there for now.

This was in part inspired by listening to a podcast episode featuring dr. blaire bigham, talking about how he went through the same denial he was advocating against years earlier. “He wrote a book arguing that a too-late death is just as bad as a too-early one, and that physicians and the public alike need to get better at accepting the inevitability of death sooner.  As the book hit the bestseller list, Blair’s own father got diagnosed with a deadly case of pancreatic cancer”

other life: i started a weekly cooking+dinner+video games with local friends. animal crossing really sparked it, then the momentum for this has continued (the psychologists would call this a “ritual”). Mangú Con Los Tres Golpes (Plantains with Salami & Eggs) Recipe Using an instant pot 😀

i visited china for a month and paid respects to my relatives. i reflected on my implicit belief in an afterlife as a result of the rituals around paying respect to my ancestors (my grandparents).

(this image isn’t part of the ancestors part. but this npr life kit podcast episode is relevant)

on the top of my mind: actually applying to jobs, enjoying coding (for the first time? vs. being excited about what coding enables me to do), finishing my research (organizing a hackathon, releasing datasets and code, writing up paper). getting my room to a cleanly state. doing 20 situps a day (?).

i think often about this group of 80 year old folks who got together and started knitting fake breasts for people who got mastectomies, and how this gave them a sense of purpose and success. entrepreneurship!

i also feel like my life has gone through several stages now, that the people in my life really only see one stage or another. the high school, swim team, dance performance, violin and piano person. the mit, miters and robotics, hardware startup and hackerspaces me. the sailboat and genomics me. the mental health me, the graduate school fighting to survive me, the sailing and car trip adventures me, the covid at home in georgia adopting a cat and feedings birds me,

the and finally that brings the me of today. currently appears to be focused on relationships, video games, trader joes plants, reflecting on friendship and family networks,

and figuring out savings for expenses that suddenly seem very soon and very large.

i guess we can go in-and-out of phases of having the ambition to change the world. i have not done any volunteering in a long time, for the most part solely focused on my own career and struggles and goals due to a perpetual feeling of “being behind” and “fighting to stay in grad school” rather than on the journey of others, and i think that has drifted me away from feeling purposeful.

if only i could convince myself i really really enjoyed striving to be on top and rich. half my thoughts are meta thoughts like that. i shouldn’t be focusing on saving a dollar here and there, but rather on applying to jobs and how much money I could make.

i think i felt a bit adrift from that. but some stability in my chaotic feelings will hopefully allow me to refocus on my career