this is my mental model for advice: in each of the many aspects of life, you find yourself at some spot on spectrums like these:
these could also have more dimensions — I’m just explaining with simplified schematics!
often, advice is very helpful when someone is on an extreme end of one of their spectra (and perhaps doesn’t realize it), and the advice nudges them toward more of a middle ground. understandably, that person might want to spread the word about this insight that was a huge boon for them. but if someone too far in the other direction blindly heeds the advice, that might do more harm than good. the advice is not one-size-fits-all.
from the perspective of this model, much “(personal) growth” is continuously calibrating where you lie on these spectra, whether dramatically or subtlely, intentionally or subconsciously. this blog post documents a one of my own recent calibrations. it was originally supposed to discuss several calibrations, but I realized 1) the other ones aren’t ready yet, and 2) if they were ready and I included them, the post would be onerously long. I suppose I wanted to preface with the advice model so that I’d be able to say: I believe that advice given to individuals you know and care about should ideally be contextualized, so what follows isn’t intended to be advice.
showing up every day as foundational
an online community i’m part of recently organized a 14-day writing challenge. before it began, we took turn sharing our intentions. some wanted to pen pieces for publication; others, explore intriguing mediums and genres. by contrast, one participant said something like*, “I might just try to get words on the page everyday,” the subtext being that their goal was comparatively not as ambitious.
reading this sparked a realization, concretizing a spoonful of my brain’s primordial thought soup into nascent verbal form (sorry you had to read this sentence): showing up every day can itself be something to celebrate. it can be the destination (at least for some eras of your life), not mere consolation (”I didn’t reach my goal, but at least I...”).
I went as far as to make building this meta-skill one of the main themes of my summer. I feel like I’ve never developed the habit of putting in honest work, day in and day out, to achieve mastery. life up until recently has exposed me to other frameworks, like 1) being public and (relatively) prolific, but relatively shallow, at alluring intersections of disciplines, or 2) recruiting others into expertise pipelines — again, rather shallowly.
what seems to be normal for some — e.g. the line of thinking that if you’re in college, then academics are top priority and you should try to study effectively for classes; or working a 9-5 — I felt like I needed to actively figure out. I had to dedicate effort to “getting” things which would make others inquire, “what... is there to ‘get’ about this??” so far, I’ve found this mindset very powerful! showing up every day is a foundation that gives and gives. it lets me create meaning and purpose, develop skills, and build deep relationships.
a hopefully illustrative example: if you’re a beginner at coding and only code once a month, you’ll likely be around the same level of inefficient each time, for a while. spinning up comprises such a large fraction of every work session, and you wrap things up soon after getting into the groove, so you have few opportunities to improve. you also have little incentive to do such a thing, because even if your processes are obviously lacking, you only have to put up with them occasionally.
on a more handwavey note, I suspect you’d also block yourself from becoming aware of what it is that you don’t know. when you gaze at the night sky, especially in the city, it takes a few moments for stars to materialize. as your eyes acclimate to the heavens, more and more become visible. some things, particularly those which are subtle and hard to distill, don’t reveal themselves if you never allow yourself to become more than a tourist in the environment.
one fatal habit I’ve had to overcome in this area is not allocating enough time for work. last school year, I invariably found that chinese homework assignments demanded of me an hour at minimum, ideally two. yet I would always attempt to finish them in 45, 30, or even 20 minutes. every single time. it wasn’t until the last days of the year that I took some first steps toward correcting this such consistently off-base pattern of decisions.
the relentless deluge of urgent tasks, the constancy of being behind, can create resistance to taking those steps, even when you know that your status quo isn’t working. a mindset shift I’ve found helpful is to trust that you’ll be at this for a while. life is long, and my career is long. break out of the myopic habit of local optimization. like making enduring heirlooms, quality matters. like maintaining a fit lifestyle, it’s more important to show up again, tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrow, than it is to drain your muscles because today the muse of motivation struck.
* i’m sharing this anecdote for the purpose of providing just-enough context about my realization (in the next paragraph). my goal is not, by contrast, to represent the events of the anecdote as factually as possible, so i apologize if there’s any misrepresentation here!
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