How do I become fervently dedicated to something?
March 16, 2014 1:10 AM Subscribe
Suppose you’re a 28 year old who, after spending 18 years as a shut-in, is finally able to experience things most people experience in their early teens. How do you dedicate yourself to an idea, a cause, a company, or a domain of knowledge while being incessantly hounded by the realization that there is much more to life than the object of your obsession?
posted by monad to Human Relations (41 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
From the age of 9 onward, my life was entirely confined to a 15” monitor and a pair of dandruff-coated headphones. But this isn’t about that.
One year ago, I made my first friend since prepubescence. In the past year, there have been many firsts. The first time I entered a bar. The first time I ate at a restaurant. The first time I had sex. To use a clichéd phrase, I finally feel alive.
And now, less than a year into this new life, I have to might have to kiss all of that goodbye.
As a case of cosmic humor, my career - the one thing other than my computer that got any attention after I entered the workforce - has transformed a source of mild enthusiasm into an intolerable, desolate hell. I’ve worked in entry-level positions at a radio station, an ad agency, a large bank, and a tech startup. In all cases, I’ve left either due to insane hours or due to existential depression (usually a combination of both). I figured out three months after quitting my last job that I will probably never be happy trying to scale the ladder one rung at a time. There has always been an unshakable sense of urgency, a feeling that the seconds are ticking by and that I’m wasting the best years of my life doing the bidding of jackasses who organize two-hour meetings to tell everyone that in their unsubstantiated opinion, a lighter shade of green will boost click-through rates by 79%. Meanwhile, Elon Musk is launching rockets into space and researchers at universities around the world are pushing the boundaries of what we know.
So I have no option but to take up an extremely demanding job as a senior level employee (with stock options) at a Silicon Valley tech startup, or start my own company. Both cases will leave me with virtually no free time. I will have to dedicate almost all my waking hours to the company. I thought I was ready for this, but in light of my newfound social life, I’m not so sure.
While I genuinely love learning anything about mathematics and computer science, I’m as curious about them as I am curious about anything else - very. I’m just as interested in physics, microbiology, robotics, and a whole bunch of different things. And this isn’t the “I heard last week’s episode of Radiolab and it was pretty cool” sort of curiosity. I’m talking thinking-about-electron-diffraction-after-four-drams-of-scotch curious. Add to this the sheer variety of experiences I’ve had in the past year and it becomes very difficult to justify being obsessed with any one thing to the exclusion of everything else. If I’m truly honest with myself, I have to admit that I remember the time four buddies and I social-engineered our way into an exclusive party after scaling a chain-link fence, evading CCTV, and sneaking past private security. I remember the time I went out on a date with the most vivacious woman I’ve ever met. I don’t remember the time the Church-Turing thesis finally clicked for me.
I know what I have to do. I’ve tried all sorts of things to convince myself that my calling is a tech company somewhere in San Francisco. I’ve told myself that it’s no big deal if I pick the wrong option because my current life is nothing more than a bonus. I’ve tried to tell myself that a vibrant social life is a distraction (my own sour grapes). But while I understand that at an intellectual level, my belief doesn’t withstand sights and sounds that remind me of the other option. For example, I saw a couple having brunch at a café earlier today and wondered to myself if I’m about to squander the next 10 years of my life the way I squandered those miserable 18. What if I end up penniless at 38, having wasted 10 years at a failed startup (or two) and the best years of my social life? The opportunity costs are enormous. Even if we ignore the social life for the sake of argument, how do I focus on something as narrow as a company when there is so much to learn? How the hell do guys like Mark Zuckerberg and your typical Fields-Medal-winning professor stay so single-mindedly passionate about the things they do?